What Would Demilitarizing Gaza Entail?

Aaron David Miller of the Woodrow Wilson International Center for Scholars talks with Steve Inskeep about Israel's call to demilitarize Gaza and whether such a proposal is realistic.

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STEVE INSKEEP, HOST:

Next, we'll ask how to stop the war between Israel and Hamas. There was a moment when Israel accepted a simple cease-fire, but Hamas did not because they had some demands. More recently, Israel has been making demands to completely disarm Gaza. Yesterday, and adviser to President Obama endorsed that idea. Tony Blinken was talking on this program.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED BROADCAST)

TONY BLINKEN: One of the results, one would hope, of the cease-fire would be some form of demilitarization so that, again, this doesn't continue; this doesn't repeat itself. This is what we've seen happen multiple times over the past few years, which is these rockets coming from Gaza, which Hamas controls, as well, more recently, as the tunneling to Israel with terrorists trying to infiltrate Israel. And no country can accept that. So that needs to be the end result of this process.

INSKEEP: Given a chance yesterday, Secretary of State John Kerry did not explicitly embrace that idea. It would amount to a very ambitious goal. But it does raise the question of what the warring sides want out of this conflict and what they really can get, which we're going to talk through with Aaron David Miller of the Woodrow Wilson International Center. He's a former U.S. diplomat with long experience on Israel issues. Welcome back to the program.

AARON DAVID MILLER: It's a pleasure to be here, Steve.

INSKEEP: So what would it take, very briefly, to demilitarize Gaza if someone took that seriously?

MILLER: You know, I think demilitarization, that is to say to ensure that Hamas's high-trajectory weapons are somehow put beyond use, using the U.S.-Russia chemical weapons agreement you take all of Assad's chemical weapons. You appoint...

INSKEEP: Oh, do like they did in Syria. OK.

MILLER: Exactly. That's the model that some Israelis are using. In exchange for that sort of - that sort of demilitarization, you get a fundamental change in Gaza's economic status. In other words, you lift all the restrictions. You basically allow Gazans to breathe. And you allow a predictable, regular transfer of people and goods, which is essentially the lifeblood of any economy. That is an ideal tradeoff. And in another galaxy far, far away, that might actually be a rational - it is a rational, logical, self-interested way to end this conflict.

INSKEEP: Well, why can't it happen in this galaxy then?

MILLER: Well, the promise is first of all, it's the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, which suspend the normal laws of rationality...

INSKEEP: OK.

MILLER: When it comes to politics. In a normal negotiation, where you have one mediator, the U.S., and two parties, Israel and the Palestinians, it's hard enough to get a deal. Look at John Kerry after nine or 10 months. Here you've got four parties, Egypt, Israel, the PA and Hamas.

INSKEEP: Palestinian Authority.

MILLER: Right. Two of them don't talk to each other - Israel and Hamas. Egypt and Hamas are literally at political war with one another. They have at least three mediators - the U.S., Egypt and probably the Qataris. And one of the mediators, the U.S., doesn't talk to Hamas. So that introduces a degree of complexity. Add to that ongoing violence and a kinetic conflict, which produces a new war each day and publics that are incredibly passionate and constrain their leaders, you really have serious obstacles to the tradeoff that I laid out.

INSKEEP: That sounds like a nice idea in principle, but you don't think it's going to happen. So what is realistic for Israel to demand and Hamas to demand to get a cease-fire?

MILLER: I think there are two possible outcomes. One is quiet for quiet, which is the way the others - the other two conflicts stopped.

INSKEEP: We stop shooting; you stop shooting.

MILLER: Exactly. That stand-down - I think the train left the station on that a long time ago.

INSKEEP: Meaning that it can't happen?

MILLER: I don't think that's possible.

INSKEEP: OK.

MILLER: I think you're now into something that I guess we could describe as stability for stability. That is to say, there's an end to the high-trajectory weapons fire on the part of Hamas.

INSKEEP: Stop shooting rockets.

MILLER: Exactly. The Israelis then begin to phase in a number of significant, economic incentives. You expand fishing rights of the coast, the Qataris pays the salaries, roughly $20 million a month, of Hamas...

INSKEEP: Oh, the government employees who aren't being paid.

MILLER: Exactly, that run Gaza. You begin to liberalize openings of imports and exports. Maybe you bring monitors from the Palestinian Authority in, which I think would make Mahmoud Abbas happy and probably the Israelis. And you destroy the tunnels and perhaps introduce - perhaps introduce - European monitors to ensure that they're not reopened. If you could get that, hey, you'd be well on your way to calling this a real success.

INSKEEP: Aaron David Miller, thanks very much.

MILLER: It's a pleasure.

INSKEEP: Aaron David Miller, foreign U.S. diplomat. He's at the Woodrow Wilson International Center for Scholars. And his book, "The End Of Greatness: Why America Can't Have And Doesn't Want Another Great President," comes out this fall.

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