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Experts Weigh How Gaza Fighting May End


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. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

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