Palestinian President Calls Off Peace Talks
STEVEN INSKEEP, host:
It's MORNING EDITION from NPR News. I'm Steve Inskeep.
RENEE MONTAGNE, host:
And I'm Renee Montagne.
Israel pulled its troops out of Gaza this morning before dawn, leaving more than 100 Palestinians dead and a peace process in disarray. Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas had suspended talks with Israel on Sunday. He was protesting the Israeli attack on Gaza. For its part, Israel said it was forced to go after militants there after they fired rockets into towns in Israel.
U.S. Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice is headed to the region today, and she'll try and restart peace talks.
We're joined now by Steven Erlanger, Jerusalem bureau chief for the New York Times.
Mr. STEVEN ERLANGER (Writer, New York Times): Good morning.
MONTAGNE: Has the violence ended now with this Israeli withdrawal?
Mr. ERLANGER: Well, the violence never quite ends. We have a lull. It's an interlude. The Israelis are saying it's for Rice to come and not be embarrassed by a lot of bloodshed. But I think the Israelis have accomplished what they wanted to do in a first round. I mean, a lot of this, to be honest, was a kind of advertisement for what may come if the rockets continue.
The Israelis very much wanted to impress upon Hamas that shooting manufactured Katyusha-style rockets into Ashkelon, a city of 120,000 people, was not supportable. Now, Hamas will clearly declare victory because the Israelis withdrew, but this to me was a kind of way of negotiating with Hamas without talking to them or talking to them instead with rockets in return for rockets and troops in return for rockets.
MONTAGNE: The Palestinians in the West Bank have been protesting this attack on Gaza. Is it going to help unite the Palestinians against talking with Israel?
Mr. ERLANGER: Well, it's a very emotional issue. One can't pretend the way sometimes I think American policy wants to pretend, that the West Bank and Gaza are separate. Hamas running Gaza and our allies in Fatah and Salem Fayed, the independent economist, running the West Bank.
So when you have 60 Palestinians killed in one day, as happened on Saturday, and many of them civilians, and part of the problem is Israel will say in its defense, is that militants Hamas, Islamic jihad are fighting from within crowded refugee camps, which are kind of like big crowded cities like Jabalya and firing rockets from there, too. And so it's very difficult for the Israelis to attack one group of people while having no damage to the civilians who surround them. It's the classic counter-terrorism dilemma, which the Israelis faced in Southern Lebanon in August of 2006.
MONTAGNE: The U.S. attitude through this has been pressuring Israel a little bit, but generally speaking, what can the U.S. do?
Mr. ERLANGER: Well, the U.S. is no friend of Hamas. And I think the United States, certainly the Bush administration, wants Hamas whacked back.
But when there are a lot of civilian dead and damaged, when it looks as if a big powerful Israel - though it is retaliating against rockets aimed at its own civilians - is attacking people who mostly have Kalashnikovs, it creates difficulties in the Arab world. It creates difficulties in Europe. The United Nations gets upset and the United States has to appeal to that conscience also. So the United States has this great ambivalent position, which is it defends Israel's right to defend itself and it cautions that discretion be used.
MONTAGNE: Will Condoleezza Rice get talks going again?
Mr. ERLANGER: I think she will. The Palestinian Particular Mahmoud Abbas suspended contacts with Israel in response to the violence, with the violence now having stopped for a time, I believe he will come back to those contacts. But he had to do something. It's politically too awkward for him to do nothing at all.
MONTAGNE: Thank you very much.
Mr. ERLANGER: You're very welcome.
MONTAGNE: Steven Erlanger is Jerusalem bureau chief for the New York Times.
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