Experts Weigh How Gaza Fighting May End

Three Middle East experts discuss how the current conflict between Israel and Hamas in Gaza might end. Dore Gold, former Israeli ambassador to the U.N., Ambassador Edward Djerejian, director of the James Baker Institute of Public Policy at Rice University, and Rashid Khalidi, Edward Said professor of modern Arab Studies at Columbia University, offer their insight.

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Where is the fighting in Gaza actually leading and how could it end - reoccupation by Israel, the collapse of Hamas, a new ceasefire or an end to both Israeli closure of Gaza and also to Palestinian rocket attacks on Israel? Well, for every one of those hypothetical resolutions of this crisis, there is something highly implausible or inherently unstable. So, given today's realities how might it end? Well, that question now for three observers of the region, a former American diplomat, and Israeli and a Palestinian-American. First, from Jerusalem, former Israeli Ambassador to the United Nations, Dore Gold. Dore Gold describe an end to the Gaza fighting for us.

Mr. DORE GOLD (Former Israeli Ambassador, United Nations): Let's take the - to clear goals of the State of Israel, to bring a halt to seven years of indiscriminate rocket fire on Israeli cities. To obtain goal if the Hamas leadership decides that they just can't get away with it any longer, that Israel will use its right to defend itself. We'll use air power and if need be, we'll use ground forces to disarm them and hopefully, their leadership will take the decision to halt the operations.

SIEGEL: Can you imagine an outcome of this conflict? In order to achieve a stable ceasefire that involves negotiations between Israel and Hamas and an inevitable recognition of Hamas's status in Gaza.

Mr. GOLD: Well, there are, you know, two different levels of how Israel can communicate with Hamas. One is, it can do what it's been doing, that is through an intermediary to send a message to Hamas about the terms of our understanding. But I think we have to draw a distinction between third-party contact with Hamas and one in which we legitimize Hamas and legitimize Hamas rule. That has huge implications not just for Israel but for the whole Middle East. Remember, Hamas is the Palestinian division of the Muslim Brotherhood. The Muslim Brotherhood is the largest opposition force in Egypt. Legitimizing Hamas rule in the Gaza Strip has implications for the future stability of the Egyptian government. And the same is true in the Hashemite Kingdom of Jordan where there's a huge Muslim Brotherhood presence. And should Hamas become legitimized in Gaza, what would that do for the future stability of the Jordanian Kingdom? I think in fact, many countries in the Arab world who are publicly objecting to Israel's self-defense operations are privately - when the doors are closed - rooting for Israel and hoping Israel puts a real damper at Hamas's capabilities because they themselves have problems with the radical Islamist groups in their own countries.

SIEGEL: Thank you very much for talking with us.

Mr. GOLD: My pleasure.

SIEGEL: Dore Gold is the former Israeli Ambassador to the United Nations. We also spoke with retired U.S. Ambassador Edward Djerejian. He now directs the Baker Institute for Public Affairs at Rice University. He was U.S. Ambassador both to Israel and to Syria. Djerejian says it's important for the U.S. administration to become immediately involved in Middle East peacemaking. He's very dubious about the prospects of Israel quieting the rockets of Gaza through military force, and he says a key player in a positive outcome of all this would be the Palestinian Authority President Abu Mazen or Mahmoud Abbas.

Mr. EDWARD DJEREJIAN (Director, Baker Institute for Public Affairs, Rice University, U.S.): Everything has to be done now to assure that he has the necessary security forces, the necessary economic assistance, humanitarian assistance that he has shown to be - to the Palestinian people - the solution. And that resistance is not the solution that is Hamas and Hezbollah's model that the pathway is only through armed resistance. It is my firm conviction that the majority of Palestinians want to see a negotiated peaceful settlement. But that when nothing is accomplished on the ground and we have these recurrent incidents, groups like Hamas and Hezbollah hold sway over Arab public opinion as we're seeing throughout the Arab world. There are demonstrations against established governments in place, against the United States, against Israel.

SIEGEL: Could the credibility of Mahmoud Abbas with the Palestinians, could it survive the appearance of him stepping to the fore because of this Israeli military action? And wouldn't he risk being seen as somebody who is the Palestinian preferred by the Israelis and the Americans for that matter, the Saudis and the Egyptians rather than necessarily by the Palestinians themselves?

Mr. DJEREJIAN: Yes. That's a very real danger, and it's occurring now as it has again in the past when the conflict has risen and there are a lot of casualties. The people who are representing the pathway towards a negotiated settlement are seen as being too accommodating to Israel, and they risk their political stature and position. We're already seeing inclinations of that, it's not only Abu Mazen, but it's also being attack by some, but mostly the other Arab states, like Egypt and President Mubarak, the Saudis and others. And then the more militant countries like Syria and Iran are seen as more faithful to the cause. And that is a political risk that you've pointed out that's real.

SIEGEL: Edward Djerejian, thanks a lot for talking with us today.

Mr. DJEREJIAN: Very welcome.

SIEGEL: That's former U.S. Ambassador Edward Djerejian. Now to Professor Rashid Khalidi, who is the Edward Said Professor of Modern Arab Studies at Columbia University. Rashid Khalidi, how might the fighting in Gaza end? Whats an endgame that you foresee?

Professor RASHID KHALIDI (Modern Arab Studies, Columbia University): Well, there will eventually be a ceasefire, the only question is how much suffering will be inflicted on the people of Gaza before it comes about and what will be the conditions, and in particular, will the blockade of a million and half people in Gaza be lifted as a condition of it? The last calm which lasted for the better part of six months and broke down in the last few weeks did not include the lifting of the blockade and that's a major reason why this thing foundered.

SIEGEL: Can you foresee a conclusion to all this with Hamas still governing and being in charge of security in Gaza?

Prof. KHALIDI: Most analysts - Israeli, Arabs, and others - have agreed that Hamas has been probably been strengthened by these attacks. Hamas was unpopular in both the West Bank and the Gaza Strip because of its stubbornness and that in fact - and failing to come to a national accord between them. The firing of rockets out of Gaza was not popular with the Gazans or with other Palestinians. But the Israeli attack has caused people to rally around the ideas that the Palestinians are under attack not just Hamas, and so Hamas has benefited from that.

SIEGEL: Ambassador Djerejian feels that the person who should be strengthened from the U.S. standpoint in all of this is Mahmood Abbas, Abu Mazen. Can you imagine him remaining or emerging as a credible figure on behalf of the Palestinians here?

Prof. KHALIDI: I mean, Israel always had it in its power to strengthen Fatah and the P.A. leadership. They systematically undermined them by continuing to raid in the West Bank, by continuing to refuse to release enough prisoners or lift the 600 some-odd checkpoints in the West Bank. These things have undermined Mahmoud Abbas who has failed to obtain even the slightest concessions from Israel in the eyes of most Palestinians, and who's a pretty much thoroughly discredited figure. So, no, I don't think that that is a likely outcome of this, unless and until Israel does some of these things which it's steadfastly refused to do. I'm not even speaking of loosening the ever-tightening bonds of the occupation or the ongoing, unceasing expansion of the settlements.

SIEGEL: Professor Khalidi, thank you very much for talking with us.

Prof. KHALIDI: You're most welcome, Robert.

SIEGEL: That's Professor Rashid Khalidi of Columbia University. We also spoke with retired U.S. Ambassador Edward Djerejian, and also with Dore Gold, the former Israeli Ambassador to the United Nations.

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As Air Assault Continues, Israel Rejects Truce Deal

An Israeli looks at the damage from a Palestinian rocket that hit a classroom in Beersheba. i

An Israeli looks at the damage from a Palestinian rocket that hit a classroom at a high school in Beersheba, Israel, on Wednesday. David P. Gilkey/NPR hide caption

itoggle caption David P. Gilkey/NPR
An Israeli looks at the damage from a Palestinian rocket that hit a classroom in Beersheba.

An Israeli looks at the damage from a Palestinian rocket that hit a classroom at a high school in Beersheba, Israel, on Wednesday.

David P. Gilkey/NPR
Map of Israel and Palestinian territories
Alyson Hurt/NPR
A Palestinian youth stands near a burning pile of debris in the road at a rally near Ramallah. i

Palestinian youths pushed debris into the roadway to block traffic during a rally Tuesday at the Qalandiya Israeli manned checkpoint, located between the West Bank city of Ramallah and Jerusalem. David P. Gilkey/NPR hide caption

itoggle caption David P. Gilkey/NPR
A Palestinian youth stands near a burning pile of debris in the road at a rally near Ramallah.

Palestinian youths pushed debris into the roadway to block traffic during a rally Tuesday at the Qalandiya Israeli manned checkpoint, located between the West Bank city of Ramallah and Jerusalem.

David P. Gilkey/NPR

Israel continued air and naval bombardment of the Gaza Strip on Wednesday after rejecting a French proposal for a two-day cease-fire to allow food and medical supplies to reach the besieged region.

Hamas, which controls Gaza, also continued rocket attacks on Israel.

With basic food supplies running low in Gaza and hospitals struggling to handle the casualties, France's foreign minister proposed a 48-hour lull to allow vital aid to enter the territory and be delivered to its 1.5 million residents.

Senior Israeli leaders discussed the idea and rejected it.

One who asked not to be named told NPR that "giving Hamas a break now to regroup and rearm is a mistake."

"It's important to keep the military pressure on Hamas; that's the whole point of this operation," he said.

Hamas has also previously rejected talk of a truce that does not include Israel reopening all of the border crossings to allow goods to flow into the territory.

Meanwhile, at an emergency meeting in Cairo of the 22-member Arab League, foreign ministers blamed Palestinian divisions for opening the door to Israel's punishing attacks.

Saudi Foreign Minister Saud al-Faisal said divisions between the Palestinian Authority, which controls the West Bank territory, and rival Hamas militants were also hindering any effective Arab response to what he called "this terrible massacre."

Arab League chief Amr Moussa called on the Palestinian rivals to hold an immediate reconciliation meeting and urged Arab states to present a united front. The Israeli bombardment has pitted moderate Arab governments against Syria and Iran.

Along the heavily fortified Gaza border fence, Israeli tank crews prepared for battle while Islamist militants, hiding as little as a few hundred yards away, laid land mines and other booby traps in case a ground war breaks out.

About 100 trucks of supplies were scheduled to enter Gaza on Wednesday. U.N. officials said, however, that the shipment falls far short of what is needed and that without a cease-fire, it is too dangerous to deliver much of the food and medical relief.

Nearly 400 people, mostly Palestinians, have been killed in five days of cross-border fighting, making the current conflict the deadliest in the Gaza Strip in four decades.

At his ranch in Crawford, Texas, President Bush spoke by telephone with Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Olmert.

"They both discussed their mutual desire" for peace, White House spokesman Gordon Johndroe told reporters.

Bush voiced concern about the strikes in Gaza and the attacks in Israel and also raised again his worries about civilian casualties in Gaza, Johndroe said.

Asked specifically what concern the administration voiced about the violence of recent days, Johndroe said: "President Bush is disappointed that Hamas continues to fire rockets on the innocent people of Israel."

He said as far as a new cease-fire is concerned, "The onus is on Hamas."

European powers have also increased pressure on both sides to halt hostilities, but public anger in Israel over the widening of the rocket attacks to include Beersheba, 24 miles from the Gaza Strip, could move the government to hit Hamas even harder.

In Paris, French Foreign Minister Bernard Kouchner repeated his call for an immediate end to the fighting and said a cease-fire allowing humanitarian access "has to be permanent and it has to be respected" because previous truces had failed.

From staff and wire reports



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