Israeli Official: 'No Quick Fix' to End Gaza Violence
MELISSA BLOCK, Host:
Israel withdrew its troops from northern Gaza today after more than two days of fighting. Hamas declared victory, but Israeli leaders vowed that Israel would continue to counter Palestinian rocket attacks. Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice arrives in the region tomorrow. She's trying to restart negotiations toward peace.
To take a measure of what Secretary Rice faces, we spoke with representatives of the Palestinian Authority and the Israeli government.
ROBERT SIEGEL, Host:
Joining us now is Mark Regev, spokesman for Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Olmert.
Welcome to the program.
BLOCK: Thank you for having me.
SIEGEL: It seems that after this Israeli incursion into Gaza, there were still rocket attacks coming out of Gaza at Israeli targets. What does that say about the efficacy of intervention in Gaza?
BLOCK: It just shows there's no quick fix here, that we have to keep the pressure on the Hamas regime until they understand that this policy of targeting innocent civilians just has to stop.
SIEGEL: Secretary Rice is on a Middle East mission and trying to keep some momentum going out of the Annapolis summit in the latest version of the Middle East peace process. Is it realistic to think that there can be any peace agreement reached in the near future given what's actually happening - what has been happening between Israel and the Hamas-controlled Gaza Strip, and also demonstrations in support of the Palestinians in the West Bank?
BLOCK: It's true the recent violence, the upsurge has eclipsed the talks we've been having with the Palestinians. And it was not our decision to break those talks off. We regret that decision. We think it's a mistake by the Palestinian leadership. We understand they are under pressure. But ultimately, you're not going to solve problems not by talking. On the contrary, you'll solve problems by talking, and we want to talk to the Palestinians.
SIEGEL: But realistically, can Mahmoud Abbas, the president of the Palestinian Authority, talk with you at a time when dozens of Palestinians are being killed in an Israeli military operation in Gaza?
BLOCK: Well, he's made a decision that at this moment, obviously, he feels he can't. But ultimately, we think there is a common interest to keep on track, to try to get this breakthrough by the end of the year as we committed to in Annapolis. Obviously, we are committed to that. And I believe he is as well. And it's true the current fighting in Gaza, which no one really wanted, is very bad for the atmospherics. But if we move a little further down the road, if we do succeed - and I hope we do - in weakening Hamas, you can now ultimately empower those forces that want the Israeli-Palestinian deal to happen.
SIEGEL: What happens, though, if Palestinians in the West Bank see what's happening in Gaza and have the reverse reaction and close ranks alongside their fellow Palestinians and become more supportive of Hamas as a result?
BLOCK: We've seen some signs of that. But that seems to be almost an emotional immediate response. I think as we move further down the line, and we're seeing this already in Gaza today, that people are asking Hamas what actually do you want. I mean, do you really believe that shooting rockets into Israeli cities is going to help Palestinians? And that's ultimately the challenge we have. It's to show the Palestinian people that the path of moderation, the path of negotiation, brings tangible benefits. The terrorists, they don't really have solutions to anybody's real problems.
SIEGEL: There were charges voiced both by U.N. Secretary General Ban Ki-moon and also the president of the European Union, Slovenia, they're in the rotating chair, that Israel's response to the rocket attacks out of Gaza was disproportionate, it was excessive. How do you answer that?
BLOCK: I would urge people to come to the Israeli communities on our side of the Gaza-Israel frontier and see how people have been living there not for one day, not for one week, but for months and even years now. You have entire communities in Israel, cities, townships, rural areas where people have been living in constant fear. These rockets come in - I think on average, we're talking about, you know, dozens of rockets, every day almost. They're not killing a lot of people every day, but entire communities are living in terror. You have a whole, younger generation, kids brought up in trauma. And I don't think any society would sit by idly and see its civilian population targeted this way indiscriminately, these rockets coming in trying to kill people. It's just not sustainable.
SIEGEL: Mark Regev, thank you very much for talking with us today.
BLOCK: Always a pleasure. Thank you for having me.
SIEGEL: Mr. Regev is spokesman for the Israeli prime minister. He joined us from his home in Modi'in, Israel.