Middle East
1:09 pm
Mon November 26, 2012

After Israel-Hamas Cease-Fire, What's Changed?

Originally published on Thu December 13, 2012 7:36 am



This is TALK OF THE NATION. I'm Neal Conan in Washington. Last week's cease-fire between Israel and Hamas was supposed to lead to more substantial discussions, but there's been little to no movement so far. So after eight days of bombs and rockets, what's changed? The dead, of course: six Israeli and over 160 Palestinians and destruction, also one-sided.

Israel claims it's Iron Dome anti-missile batteries proved effective. Palestinians cheered their ability to strike as far as Tel Aviv and Jerusalem. Egypt and its new president played the central role in negotiations, but the Israeli blockade continues. Both parties remain implacably opposed and talks on the fundamental issues appear no closer.

What's changed after this latest round between Israel and Gaza? 800-989-8255. Email us, talk@npr.org. You can also join the conversation on our website. Go to npr.org, click on TALK OF THE NATION. Later in the program, will we see the Daily Planet go to three days a week? How about the Cleveland Plain Dealer? Connie Schultz joins us on The Opinion Page.

But first: What's changed as a result of the eight-day war? Our guests include former U.S. Ambassador to Israel Martin Indyk, Daily Star syndicated columnist Rami Khouri and David Makovsky of the Washington Institute for Near East Policy. Ambassador Indyk is now at a studio at the Brookings Institution, where he's vice president and director of foreign policy, and nice to have you back on the program.

MARTIN INDYK: Thanks very much for having me.

CONAN: So what's changed?

INDYK: Actually, I think potentially quite a lot has changed. It's not very visible to the eye as yet. The fact that this cease-fire has held so quickly and that all of the different militant factions in Gaza seem to be adhering to it, or at least that Hamas is able to get them to adhere to it, strikes me as quite positive.

But beyond that, there's the new role of the Egyptian President Mohammed Morsi, and under his guidance Egyptian intelligence, which essentially have brokered this deal, and the United States really didn't play that much of a role. And he's become responsible for it. He's done a few other things after that which are highly problematic, but in this context he's helping to preserve the peace with Israel rather than to disrupt it.

And I think that if he continues to play that role, that's a positive development. Beyond that, there's a - there's the fact that Hamas is essentially taking on responsibility for policing a cease-fire, stopping attacks on Israel. And on the Israeli side, the right-wing government of Bibi Netanyahu exercised restraint.

And I know that may sound hard to believe given the amount of destruction involved, but if there'd been a ground invasion, the destruction would have been far worse, and the problems for both sides would have been far worse in terms of loss of life and damage and damage to Israel's international reputation on the other side.

And the fact that the prime minister exercised restraint and has had to justify that restraint to his right wing and is doing so and survives it and has the foreign minister, the hardliner Avigdor Lieberman, also supporting this policy of restraint - I mean, bear in mind that this is a government that has in its platform an agreement to topple the Hamas government in Gaza, and they made a conscious decision not to do that, suggests that maybe, just maybe out of this, Hamas and a right-wing government in Israel can find a way to do business without fighting each other.

CONAN: Rami Khouri joins us by Skype from Amsterdam. He's - in addition to his column for the Daily Star, director of the Issam Fares Institute for Public Policy at the American University in Beirut, and good to have you back with us.

RAMI KHOURI: Thank you, glad to be with you.

CONAN: And from your vantage point, what's changed?

KHOURI: Well, I think quite a bit. Martin mentioned a few things, much of which I agree with, but there's other things, as well, that have changed. The rise of other groups in Gaza, along with Hamas and some leftist groups - Popular Front and others - you have these Salafi groups now, the more militant Islamist groups who are mirroring the rise of some of these groups all across the Middle East.

You have the regional mediators, Turkey and Qatar, playing a much bigger role. The United States is proceeding a little bit, at least in public - I'm sure they're active behind the scenes - and the U.S. in Libya said it was leading from the front. I think in Egypt, in Gaza it was following. And now so it was leading from the rear in Libya, and now it's following from the front.

They were out there (technical difficulties) was on all the TV shows with all of the leaders, most of them. But the type of lead were being taken by Egypt with Qatar, Turkey and others helping out. So the changing of the guard and the sharing of the responsibilities, mediation is quite significant. The (unintelligible) and the will and the technical capacity of the Palestinian resistance groups in Gaza to fight Israel militarily is very significant because this is a step forward from the last round of fighting.

And of course the conflict should be resolved peacefully, ideally, but if it's not, the continued ability of Palestinian groups - Hezbollah and (unintelligible) - to fire deeper into Israel and overcome Israel's (unintelligible) superiority is a significant development, as well.

So I think all of these things together show a significant change in the region, but the most important one is probably the greater Arab public opinion and government support for Hamas. And we saw this demonstrated symbolically with visits with foreign ministers and prime ministers and Arab League delegations and all that. But you're now getting the first example of the post-Arab Spring convergence between the huge changes in the region where legitimate Arab governments are reflecting Arab public opinion, which is critical of Israel, and that is being now translated into a political position where Hamas and others in Palestine probably will get more practical and realistic support from their Arab (unintelligible).

But this is a huge development. We don't know where it's going to go, but we just saw the first example of that in Gaza, the coming together of the Arab Spring and the Arab-Israeli conflict, which is something that we've been pointing out for the last year. It was inevitable, and now it's just starting. So this is a real sea change of things happening in the region. It can be harnessed...

CONAN: Rami, I hate to interrupt, but Rami Khouri, the Skype line has been, well, sometimes technology is our friend and sometimes it is not. We're going to get you back on a regular phone line and continue the conversation.

In the meantime, let me turn to our guest here in Studio 3A in Washington, D.C., David Makovsky, director of the Project on Middle East Peace Process at the Washington Institute for Near East Policy, just back from Israel, and it's good to have you back on the program.

DAVID MAKOVSKY: It's good to be back.

CONAN: And what do you think has changed?

MAKOVSKY: I was in Israel and Ramallah and the West Bank. It was a very brief visit. I agree with a lot of what my colleagues said, what Martin said, what Rami said. Maybe I'll just pick up a little bit on the last two points that Rami made about technology and the impact of the post-Arab Spring.

I think on the technology, yeah, Hamas will say, you know, we hit, you know, 10 miles south of Tel Aviv and 10 miles south of Jerusalem, and this is the farthest, and I think that is something that Hamas is trumpeting. If you want to talk on the technology front, Israel will talk about the Iron Dome, this missile defense, which is really - it hit 84 percent of its targets.

Really there's only five batteries focusing on five urban areas, but it knew to differentiate between real rockets and, really, fake rockets. I think just being on the ground there, the Israeli public was amazed by this new technology that they had never really known a lot about.

CONAN: Could I just inject a note of skepticism? I was in Dhahran during the 1991 first Gulf War, and I was amazed at the accuracy of those Patriot Missiles, which turned out hit nothing whatsoever, so I will...

MAKOVSKY: Right, but I was there, too. But I could tell you - but these were much more effective than the Patriots because the Patriots really didn't deflect anything.

CONAN: No, but we were told they did.

MAKOVSKY: Yeah, but I think here, from what I understand, I mean at the time I think there was a lot of skepticism, but here I think that, you know, its achievement, I haven't seen that being challenged.

The second element is, you know, Rami's point about the post-Arab Spring, which I think is an interesting point. But I think here, and it's something that Martin picked up on Morsi being more part of the solution rather than part of the problem. You know, it was a fork in the road for him, which is does he do what Rami said, which is sympathize with the Arab public, or is he out to stabilize the peace. And he chose that.

And I think Hamas miscalculated in the sense that they were sure that Israel would not start up with them because in this new - the new X factor being Egypt that, you know, if they struck Gaza, they would hurt their relations with the Egyptians. But Israel in that sense was not deterred.

So I think there have been some limitations on the post-Arab spring. I think, you know, Rami's right that the configuration of Egypt, Qatar and Turkey is an interesting configuration of Sunni states, and I wish they would be successful in stopping the bloodshed in Syria, which in one day claimed more lives than this conflict did in a week.

But, you know, I think there are some limitations in looking at the Arab spring's impact, as well.

CONAN: And Martin Indyk, we just have a couple of minutes left in this segment, but I also wanted to ask: Is - it seems, reading reports from Gaza, that they are very taken with the idea that resistance is the way to address Israel from now on. Is among the casualties of this conflict diplomacy?

INDYK: Yes, well, I would say one of the - probably the biggest casualty in political terms is the Palestinian Authority, that of course controls the West Bank but has no control or influence in Gaza and therefore was completely sidelined by the conflict of the last week.

And now it's going to make a bid for greater salience by going to the U.N. this week on Thursday, November 29th. They'll be seeking a vote in the U.N. General Assembly for non-member statehood status. That vote will certainly pass by a majority, and they will have that to show, but it's not much when the reality of a lack of a solution that they have been promoting for well nigh, what, 20 years now through the Oslo process, is something that looks dead and simply non-viable, whereas the government of Israel is working, albeit indirectly through the Egyptians with Hamas and making concessions to them in terms of easing the siege that are a direct consequence of the use of force.

So you've got a stark difference between those who argue for peace with Israel who have been policing the West Bank, and they seem to be losing out in this game.

CONAN: Ambassador Martin Indyk, Rami Khouri, David Makovsky, our guests. What do you think has changed after this latest round between Israel and Gaza? We'll get to your calls after a short break. Stay with us. I'm Neal Conan, 800-989-8255. Email talk@npr.org. It's the TALK OF THE NATION from NPR News.


CONAN: This is TALK OF THE NATION from NPR News. I'm Neal Conan. The ceasefire Egypt brokered last week between Israel and Palestinian militants is supposed to be just the first step. Now indirect talks between the two sides are underway, a complicated negotiation over border arrangements for Gaza, security protocols along the border, as well as the Israel blockade on imports and exports.

There's a lot of uncertainty surrounding the whole endeavor. Thus far, no reports of progress. So what's changed after eight days of fighting between Israel and Gaza? 800-989-8255. Email us, talk@npr.org. You can also join the conversation on our website. That's at npr.org. Click on TALK OF THE NATION.

Former Ambassador to Israel Martin Indyk; Rami Khouri, director of the Issam Fares Institute for Public Policy at the American University in Beirut; and David Makovsky, distinguished fellow at the Washington Institute for Near East Policy are our guests. And let's see if we can get Al(ph) on the line. Al joins us from Minneapolis.

AL: Good afternoon, great conversation.

CONAN: Thank you.

AL: You asked what's changed. I really don't think anything's actually changed when it comes right down to it. The situation is basically the same as it was, you know, before four years ago, after four years ago. It's currently a situation where you have people that are, you know, minimalistly(ph) armed against a, you know, up a nuclear-armed state. I don't think until Hamas presents a real security threat and where there's actually - Israelis feel existential threat to security in a real means, like something similar to what they're inflicting upon Gaza right now, that they're not going to make any changes.

I don't think that there's anything really in it for them. The settlements are expanding and have been for 20 years. And I don't think they see any upside in ending this thing because I think that the government wants to get the entire occupied lands. That's my opinion. But what do you guys think?

CONAN: Well, let me turn to Rami Khouri. Is it going to be easy for the Gazans to resupply the equipment that they either fired off or was destroyed in the bombing?

KHOURI: Oh, I think probably they will be able to resupply if they decide to do that. The likelihood is that they will, to some extent. But I think it's important not to focus on the military side as the main side from the Palestinian side because this is not, as the caller said, this is not an equal battle between two conventional armed forces.

The Israelis are very powerful technologically and militarily, and they'll use that power, as we saw in Lebanon and Gaza before. So this is a political battle that occasionally erupts into a military or an armed conflict and in different ways.

I think the important thing is to focus on the political issues because there is no military solution. One of the - I think the most important lesson to me of this latest round of fighting is that both the Israelis and the Palestinians have, in different ways, increased their technical capabilities and also their will to fight and to fight brutally in wars that kill mostly civilians.

But also there's no solution to this militarily. I think that's the real answer, that over time, any technological edge or brutal use of force is only going to be reciprocated by the other side. So hopefully this will shift the attitudes on both sides into exploring more seriously is there a political resolution to this conflict.

And the political resolution of the conflict forces a discussion which the Israelis don't like to talk about very much, or the Israelis' friends in the Western world, which forces a discussion of what happened in 1947 and '48. And this is the point that Hamas is making, that this is not about the occupation of the West Bank or Gaza or the siege of Gaza that Israel has, it's about deeper issues of Palestinian rights, ending refugeehood and doing this in a way that is politically realistic for both sides.

Hopefully that will come onto the agenda in the years ahead. It's not on the agenda now. But this is the only way to find a solution that stops us from repeating this military conflict and worse conflicts to come every three or four or five years.

CONAN: David Makovsky?

MAKOVSKY: I agree with Rami: There's no military solution to this conflict. You want a solution that gives dignity to both sides. That's crucial. Without that, you know, there's going to - fighting will continue. But I think it's important to set the record straight on a couple points.

When Al from Minneapolis called, talked about expanding settlements, well, when it came to Gaza, Israel uprooted settlements, 8,000 people, ended Gaza occupation, and Israelis were convinced that it's not like they'll all of a sudden get a bouquet of roses from the Gazans, but they would feel that at least there's some sign that good measure meets good measure here, and there would be some sort of a virtuous circle.

But what happened is in the internal Palestinian dynamic, Hamas seized upon this and said well, you know, this shows that three years of resistance, of killing, is better than 10 years of negotiation. And they won. I think it could have been done a little differently, that it wasn't unilateral. And people will say what about the fishing rights, you know, outside of, you know, the Mediterranean, and there'll be some other issues.

But clearly it was a step that was not reciprocated, and for Israelis, it makes them believe that there is another - we're talking about lack of symmetry, that the lack of symmetry is they will at least accept the principle of a two-state solution, Hamas will not. It doesn't accept Israel the size of a telephone booth in the Tel Aviv beach.

Now the answer from my perspective is that Israel and the Palestinian Authority, it won't happen right now, (unintelligible) Abbas has not come to the table in two years, but maybe after the Israeli elections in January, with a broader-based Israel government, he will. That has to be the focus. I don't think we're going to solve the Hamas issue, but at least we should put some emphasis on the Israeli West Bank issue with the Palestinian Authority after the election in January.

CONAN: Let's see if we can go to Jed(ph), and Jed's with us from St. Louis.

JED: Hi, one thing I noticed that really changed in this most recent conflict is that the Internet has played an incredible role in the conflict recently, with Israel threatening to shut down Gaza's Internet connectivity, their sort of connection to the outside world: social media, Facebook and Twitter.

And I thought it was interesting that the response to that was not anything political or military, it was actually from the hacker group Anonymous, shut down more than 80 Israeli websites. I wanted to get your thoughts on how this is impacting the role of the governments in this conflict.

CONAN: Any thoughts on that?

KHOURI: If I can mention being a person who has spent his life in the media, I think we have to - not to over-exaggerate the role of the mass media. I think, you know, the whole social - vigilant social media, Twitter and Facebook and the Internet and all these things, are tools that people use. You can shut them down, but it doesn't shut down the political sentiments and the causes of this conflict. So I think I wouldn't put too much emphasis on that.

The real issue is what are the political positions. What are the grievances that people on both sides are expressing? I just want to add one quick point in response to David's point about withdrawal from Gaza. Unilateral withdrawals followed by sieges are not anything that people should expect that are going to bring about anything that positive. And we've just had U.N. data saying that the children of Gaza are stunted and malnourished, mainly because of the Israeli siege. So I think the issue of this unilateral withdrawal, and we didn't expect roses, and this is Israeli propaganda that really is not very credible. And it's not very useful anymore, either.

I think we've got to get beyond that point of - and focusing on the West Bank is really - you know, the Israelis have tried this for 20 years without any really serious attempt to get to the heart of the problem because, as I said, the problem isn't just getting out of the 67 territories. It's a deeper issue of Palestinian refugeehood.

Just as the Israelis want us to recognize them and live in peace with them, which we've said we're willing to do, they need to come to grips with our most inner existential concerns, which is our refugeehood and our exile. So piecemeal withdrawals, one-sided withdrawals, laying siege to Gaza, negotiating with one side of the Palestinians isn't going to do it.

And I think we've got to make a radical break with these approaches from the past and look for something much more productive on both sides, both from the Palestinian and the Israeli side.

CONAN: David Makovsky, I know you want to come back on that, and we could go on and on, but I wanted to turn to Martin Indyk and ask him if he sees any prospect of the kind of discussions that Rami and, for that matter, David Makovsky are talking about, where the real issues are on the table.

INDYK: Possibly, but it's going to take some time. But let me just quickly say something about the Internet and Twitter. It was rather interesting this time around that the Israel Defense Forces actually used the Twitter in particular to communicate with the people of Gaza, both to communicate threats and to communicate warnings about where they needed to evacuate from.

And this was I think a novel use of the medium, not one that anybody expected, but actually served a purpose which leads me to believe that they don't want to shut down Gaza's Internet service, they'd prefer to use it that way. As for the prospects for a negotiated settlement, I think one of the big problems with the negotiations or the lack of them is the fact that on the Palestinian side there hasn't been a unified actor since Hamas took over Gaza and the split in the Palestinian polity is something that is opposed by the Palestinian people but - and it definitely weakens their position in any negotiation because the Israelis reasonably say, well, who are we going to negotiate with on these issues.

And so Palestinian unity, particularly between Fatah and Hamas, is in some ways a necessary precondition for a meaningful negotiation to take place. Will this latest crisis lay the foundations for a reconciliation between Hamas and Fatah? It seems to me doubtful given what we've already discussed about winners and losers. But the Egyptian Muslim Brotherhood leadership clearly has this in mind. They've made it very clear that they want to come out of the cease-fire arrangements into an effort at reconciliation.

And if Hamas can be persuaded that its future lies in acting as a government rather than as a terrorist organization or they would call themselves resistance organization lies through feeding the people rather than fighting Israel, then it may be possible to work out an arrangement where Hamas becomes part of the PLO and the PLO has a unified act that goes into negotiations with Israel, and that would be a positive development.

CONAN: David Makovsky, are we actually talking about as we look towards all of these things which will take large amounts of time, are we actually avoiding the next shoe to drop which will be next year, perhaps a confrontation of one sort or another with Iran and its proxies in Lebanon. Hezbollah, of course, they're much more than just Iranian proxies, but they are that too.

MAKOVSKY: Well, clearly, that's, yeah, that's the wider issue. Iran has been providing weaponry to Hamas or the Islamic jihad. And with the Fajr-5s that were a big part of this conflict, they have about a 60-mile range, and Israel claims that they knocked them all out towards the end of the war but...

CONAN: Those are the missiles that did reach near Jerusalem and near Tel Aviv.

MAKOVSKY: Near Tel Aviv, right. And - but clearly, that was what was interesting. And one of the many interesting things about this conflict was that everyone assumed that Israel didn't - would seek Gaza as kind of a sideshow because the main focus was Iran and the defense minister of Israel, Ehud Barak, didn't want to go down that road, but in fact, he wasn't deterred. And some would say, well, you know, if you knock out the long-range rockets, you show the iron dome works, actually, this is like a warm-up for the wider conflict. I don't think, you know, they saw it necessarily that way, but I think it was a byproduct.

If I could just say one word about this issue of what Rami calls the siege. I mean, a big piece of this is the Rafah crossing point in southern Gaza and into Egypt in the northern Sinai. And this has been an issue where Egypt has kept that closing closed. I think it was interesting that Haniya, the prime minister of Gaza, of Hamas, said in his first speech he asked the Egyptians to open up Rafah.

And I think that here the issue again is Egypt's role in this whole thing going forward, because if Egypt wanted to, they could. And - but yet, they've chosen not to. And there's different theories on why they've chosen not to. It could give Egypt more leverage in Hamas going forward, but it is a key piece of this where Egypt - it's really Egypt's call to what extent do they want to open it up to goods to Palestinian people. It's a piece of this whole cease-fire that is really not talked a lot about, and yet it points to the role that Egypt could play going forward.

CONAN: David Makovsky of the Washington Institute for Near East Policy. Also with us is former U.S. ambassador to Israel, a former assistant secretary of state for Near East affairs, Ambassador Martin Indyk and Rami Khouri, director of the Issam Fares Institute for Public Policy at the American University in Beirut, a syndicated columnist for The Daily Star. You're listening to TALK OF THE NATION from NPR News. Adam is on the line with us from Tallahassee.

ADAM: Hi. Yeah. Good afternoon, gentlemen. Thanks for this discussion. I think it's fascinating, and I really appreciate your all's input. My comment has to do with a response to your question on what has changed. And I really feel like one of the things that's change greatly in this is the motivation for conflict in the first place. Israel has spent the last several months saber-rattling about Iran and its nuclear aspirations. And given that Iran is the one who has supplied Hamas with these long-range Fajr missiles that are capable of landing in Tel Aviv and Jerusalem as they've proven, it seems to me that this conflict is much more Iran's response to that saber-rattling, to assert themselves into this region in a much closer range that they have before. And I'd just be curious to hear your panel's response to Iran's role in this.

CONAN: Martin Indyk, should have we seen this as a proxy war?

INDYK: Yes, very much so but not exactly in the way that the questioner put it. I think if you go back to the early '90s, Iran has used the Palestinian problem as a way of projecting its influence into the Middle East heartland and through support for Hezbollah, Hamas and in particular Palestinian Islamic Jihad, which is a wholly-owned subsidiary of the Iranian al-Quds Force, they have managed to present themselves as the supporters and defenders of the, you know, of militancy and terrorism, an argument that violence and rejectionism is the way to liberate Palestine. And that has got them a long way in terms of asserting their influence in what is an Arab-Israeli rather than a Persian-Israeli issue. And they - it's a long arm of Iran that reaches across to Hezbollah in Lebanon and through Sudan up through the Sinai they're arming the Palestinians in Gaza as well.

Part of that effort beyond their interest in asserting their claim to dominance in the Arab Middle East is to deter Israel from attacking them. The provision of something like 50,000 rockets to Hezbollah in Lebanon and these longer-range Fajr-5 missiles to Hamas in Gaza and Palestine's Islamic Jihad is all part of a way of telling Iranians to - telling the Israelis don't dare hit us because we can hit your population centers from these areas very close to you. And the fact that the...

CONAN: And Hassan Nasrallah was rattling that particular saber again today.

INDYK: Indeed. And the fact that the Israelis have found answers to that both offensively and defensively reduces the deterrent that the Iranians have been trying to build.

CONAN: Martin Indyk, thank you very much for your time as always. We appreciate it.

INDYK: Thank you.

CONAN: Ambassador Martin Indyk with us from the Brookings Institution here in Washington. Rami Khouri joined us by phone from Amsterdam in the Netherlands. Rami, always good to speak with you.

KHOURI: My pleasure. Thank you.

CONAN: And David Makovsky was with us here in Studio 3A. Thanks to you as well.

MAKOVSKY: Delighted to be with you, Neal.

CONAN: When we come back, The Opinion Page. Clark Kent will join us - yeah, that Clark Kent. Stay with us. It's the TALK OF THE NATION from NPR News. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.