Soldier's Kidnapping Increases Mideast Tensions

Philip Wilcox, president for the Foundation for Middle East, talks with Susan Stamberg about efforts to free an Israeli soldier held by Palestinian militants. Does the Israeli incursion make a bad situation worse?

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SUSAN STAMBERG, host:

And we turn now to Philip Wilcox, the President of the Foundation for Middle East Peace. He served as U.S. counsel general in Jerusalem. Good morning to you, sir.

Mr. PHILIP WILCOX (President, Foundation for Middle East Peace; Former U.S. Counsel General in Jerusalem): Good morning, Susan.

STAMBERG: Do you get the sense here that the prime minister of Israel was, in a way, forced to take this action, that the incursion was just inevitable?

Mr. WILCOX: I don't think it was inevitable, but there's always strong political pressure from he public to rescue Israeli hostages, and I think that's what happened here. There could have been a more negotiated effort, indeed. Negotiations are going on quietly, but this show of force wasn't essential. It's going to make the situation more difficult, and, of course, it risks the life of Gilad Shalit, the young soldier.

STAMBERG: Yes. Is there any precedent, by the way, for action like this ever leading to the release of a captured soldier?

Mr. WILCOX: No, there isn't. In fact, nine IDF personnel have been taken captive over the years. All of them have been killed and none have been released. So this, obviously, is one reason why the Israelis chose to take military action.

STAMBERG: Yeah, but do you, Mr. Wilcox, accept the notion that - the statement from Israel that this is the only reason for this incursion, in order to get that 19-year-old soldier back, or are there broader, deeper motives?

Mr. WILCOX: Well, there are deeper motives. There's been a period of mutual violence that has been growing over the past two months and, indeed, it indicates that violence is imbedded in the current impasse in the absence of any political process that would point toward a return to negotiations.

It's very dangerous and the momentum toward further violence is there unless both sides can pull back from the brink. It seems that the Palestinian Authority is unable to stop the violence. They claim they were not responsible for this. Indeed, the prime minister - the Hamas Prime Minister, Haniya, claims that this was carried out by unauthorized elements.

So there's - the Palestinian Authority itself and the Palestinian governments don't seem to have the capability of resolving this crisis.

STAMBERG: Could you just talk to us a bit about this organization known as Hamas? It's radical. It is Islamic - in control of the Palestinian government, but there's a political wing, there's a military wing, they seem, sometimes, almost to be working at cross purposes.

Mr. WILCOX: It's true. Hamas is another example of the divisions within Palestinian society. There are groups that are not accountable to the civilian government. There are groups that are - that report to the radical Hamas leadership in Damascus under Khaled Meshaal, and there are other groups, too. So it's a very messy situation.

Ultimately, the only way to control these groups, I think, is to create some stronger center of Palestinian authority that will be able to persuade the public to move against these unauthorized groups. That hasn't happened. This situation has existed now for the past four years where Palestinian violence has been carried out without instructions from the central Palestinian Authority.

STAMBERG: Egypt has been trying to broker the release of this soldier. Do you imagine there's a possibility that it can be resolved through help from Egypt?

Mr. WILCOX: Egypt has been very helpful in negotiating with Hamas in recent years. I think some more broad international mediation effort is needed here. What is desperately needed is an overall ceasefire between the Palestinians and Israelis, and it'll be extremely difficult to accomplish that unless there is a commitment on the Israeli side to refrain from violence. Israel has quite rightly demanded the Palestinians halt any further violence, but unless it's willing to refrain from violence itself in a reciprocal measure I don't think such a ceasefire will be possible. Without it, there's a danger of escalation and a return to full-scale war.

STAMBERG: Yeah. Thank you very much. Philip Wilcox is head of the Foundation for Middle East Peace. He has served as U.S. Counsel General in Jerusalem. Thank you, again.

Mr. WILCOX: You're welcome.

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