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United Nations chief Ban Ki-moon and U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry arrived in Cairo yesterday in a bid to broker a cease-fire between Israel and the militant Palestinian group Hamas. Their visit follows some of the deadliest days of fighting between Israelis and Palestinians since the last ground war in 2009. More than 500 Palestinians and 27 Israelis have died since fighting began July 8. Israeli fighters say their mission is to destroy a network of cross-border tunnels that Hamas militants are using to infiltrate Israel. Diane and her guests discuss the crisis in Gaza and prospects for a truce.
- Elise Labott global affairs correspondent, CNN.
- Reuven Azar deputy Israeli ambassador to the United States.
- Anne Barnard Beirut bureau chief, The New York Times.
- Hisham Melhem Washington bureau chief, Al-Arabiya News Channel.
MS. DIANE REHMThanks for joining us. I'm Diane Rehm. Israel continues to fire on targets in Gaza, and then Israeli soldier's reported missing. Diplomatic efforts to broker a cease-fire between Israel and Hamas intensify. Joining me to talk about the latest on the crisis in Gaza and prospects for a truce: Reuven Azar -- he's deputy Israeli ambassador to the U.S. -- Elise Labott of CNN, and Hisham Melhem of Al-Arabiya News Channel. And throughout the hour, I know many of you will want to weigh in. Give us a call at 800-433-8850. Send an email to email@example.com. Follow us on Facebook or send us a tweet. Thank you all for being here.
MS. ELISE LABOTTThanks, Diane. Good to be here.
MR. HISHAM MELHEMThank you.
AMB. REUVEN AZARThank you very much.
REHMAnd first, joining us by phone from Gaza, is Anne Barnard. She's Beirut bureau chief for The New York Times. Thanks for joining us, Anne.
MS. ANNE BARNARDThank you.
REHMTell us what the latest is on the ground there in Gaza.
BARNARDWell, there's continuing to be a lot of air strikes and artillery fire. The ground invasion is still very active in the eastern side of Gaza, which of course is very narrow territory running from north to south. So there's heavy fighting in the east. There's shells falling sometimes even towards the west and a lot of air strikes even in downtown Gaza City, which is a place that the Israeli authorities have told people here that it's safer to move to. So it's a very chaotic situation. People aren't sure where to go. And meanwhile, Israel has discovered even more tunnels leading into Israel than they had expected.
REHMTell me what the latest news is about the missing Israeli soldier.
BARNARDWell, the Israeli military at first did not confirm or deny the claim by Hamas that they had captured an Israeli soldier. Now they're saying that there is an Israeli missing in Gaza, probably delays due to notification of the family. They say that the person is presumed dead, but that still could be significant because it's very important for Israel to recover all of its soldiers. And in the past, they have traded hundreds or even more prisoners in exchange for a body.
REHMI know that you and Chief Ban Ki-moon and Secretary of State Kerry landed in Cairo on Monday to try to broker a cease-fire. You've got the top Hamas leader in Gaza indicating that a group would not accept an unconditional cease-fire. Do you know what's happening with those talks now?
BARNARDWell, I think the main point is that neither party is willing to go back to the status quo ante. And here in Gaza, the biggest issue is what they call the siege, the near-blockade on Gaza that's been imposed for years by Israel and increasingly by Egypt. They say that the people are suffering from unemployment and from the inability to travel and that it simply can't go back to the way it was. And, interestingly, their condition for a cease-fire is not about Jerusalem or the borders or any of the huge questions in the conflict but just about primarily about ending these restrictions on Gaza and also releasing prisoners.
REHMBut of course there are ongoing worries about these tunnels, ongoing worries about people on both sides dying.
BARNARDIndeed. And I think the question is, how much longer is this going to go on? Of course, for Israel, they also are under pressure at home to show that they've really done something about the tunnels and about the rocket fire from Gaza.
REHMAnne Barnard, she's Beirut bureau chief for The New York Times. Thanks so much for joining us.
BARNARDThank you, Diane.
REHMAnd turning to you, Amb. Azar, what is the aim now of the Israeli ground forces in Gaza?
AZARThank you, Diane. What the IDF is doing is executing the orders of the covenant, that decided to act in self-defense after having hundreds and now thousands of rockets fired their population centers in Israel. They are trying to achieve the aim of the government which is reaching a sustainable cease-fire.
AZARAs you know, Hamas has refused, has rejected the cease-fire initiative of Egypt and therefore -- and after the attacks of the tunnels, not only of the rockets against Israel -- the IDF had to go in. And what it's trying to do now is to get rid of these tunnels. We have discovered more than 24 tunnels, attack tunnels, more than 54 shafts. And the IDF are trying to deal with those, destroy those, and they are fighting inside the Gaza Strip against those terrorists.
REHMTell me how you account for the more than 500 Palestinian dead and I think it's 27 Israelis at this point who have died.
AZARWell, every loss of life is a tragedy, Diane. And Israel really tried not to engage in this conflict. It was a conflict that was -- we had an attack. We were attacked, and we had to respond. Now, in our response, we are being very responsible, unlike Hamas. Hamas is firing rockets to our cities. Then it is hiding their rockets and their tunnels in population centers.
AZARAnd then when we try to warn the population to get away from these places by phone calls, by pamphlets, by text messages, by this method that we have developed of these (word?) rockets that we send on roofs, knocking on roofs for people to leave, what the interior minister of Hamas is trying to do is to prevent people from leaving.
AZAROfficially, that's what they're trying to do. So many of those attacked -- have been hurt -- are the result of them staying in areas in which we asked to evacuate. Now, we have to take into account that out of more than 2,000 counterattacks that we sent to the Gaza Strip, there is a statistical margin of error. It is very tragic. And we regret every loss of life.
AZARBut we have to do -- hear the moral divide. Israel is trying to prevent any loss of civilian life, and we have -- we are trying to protect civilian lives in Gaza. We are trying to protect civilian lives in Israel. Hamas is trying to inflict as much damage as possible to civilians in both sides. And this is the challenge that we all have.
REHMReuven Azar, he's deputy Israeli ambassador to the United States. Hisham Melhem, how do you see it from the Palestinian side?
MELHEMLet's put the situation in context. People talk about Gaza and Israel as if they are two sovereign entities. Gaza is a huge internment camp. Gaza is under siege. Israel controls its skies, its coastline, its border. Egypt and Israel have put a tremendous tight siege on Gaza. When you put people like that, almost 2 million people, in a tiny place -- this is the most densely populated piece of land in the world. They...
REHMI gather it's something like 149 square miles.
MELHEMExactly. It's a tiny place, you know. And when you put people in such a hellish conditions, they will burrow underground and create tunnels. They will burrow underground. You will, and I will if we were in that situation. That's why when the Israelis say -- use the silly analogy, it's like Canada bombing Boston and New York, no. It is -- in many ways, one could argue legally that Gaza's still under occupation, a form of punishment, collective punishment.
MELHEMAnd now the Israelis cry morally. The Gazans and Hamas are forcing us to kill their children. Look at the discrepancy in terms of casualties. They are hitting hospitals. I condemn Hamas when they lob missiles indiscriminately. You cannot do that. And Hamas has a moral responsibility to protect the people when they fire a rocket. And now the Israelis say, we are knocking on the Palestinians' doors and ask them to leave. Leave where? Go to the sea? I mean, if there is a country that would accept these people, the Israelis would be happy to push them and have a good history of pushing people and doing ethnic cleansing as they've done in 1948.
MELHEMSo this moral argument that we have the high moral ground is nonsense. And in that sense, there is an aspect of nihilism on both sides. But at least the Israelis have to recognize that if the keep doing the same thing and expect different results, they're mistaken. If you are a child in Gaza, 6-year-old child, it means that you've seen three wars in your little lifetime. And this is the context that is missing in the debate in Israel, as well as among Israel's friends in this country.
REHMHisham Melhem, he's Washington bureau chief at Al-Arabiya News Channel. Elise, what are your expectations for Secretary Kerry and Ban Ki-moon as they attempt to order a truce?
LABOTTWell, I don't -- I know that Secretary Kerry wants to get involved and wants to see if he can do some good here. And you heard him on the Sunday talk shows kind of voicing a little frustration that he wants to get out there and start working this. I'm not really clear at this point what he's going to be able to accomplish. You know, Egypt obviously wants to be a broker here. But it's a different Egypt than existed in 2012 when then-President Morsi of the Muslim Brotherhood was working with Secretary Clinton. Egypt was very close to Hamas.
LABOTTIt had had a lot of influence on Hamas at the time and was willing to give certain -- some concessions to Hamas, such as working with opening the border, that this current Egyptian President el-Sisi does not seem to want to give. One of Egypt's -- you know, a lot of people think that Egypt wants to crush Hamas right now and that Egypt and Israel finally have common cause. So what Secretary Kerry will try to do is to urge the Egyptian government to ease the border with Gaza, maybe pay some of the salaries of Hamas workers that they're looking for. But I'm not necessarily clear whether he has a serious role to play in this cease-fire.
REHMElise Labott, global affairs correspondent for CNN. And short break here. When we come back, we'll talk further, take your calls, your email. I look forward to hearing from you.
REHMAnd welcome back. We're talking about the ongoing struggle and battle going on between Hamas in Gaza and the Israelis. Here in the studio with me: Reuven Azar -- he's deputy Israeli ambassador to the United States -- Elise Labott, global affairs correspondent with CNN, and Hisham Melhem is Washington bureau chief at Al-Arabiya News Channel. Ambassador, I wonder about the ongoing relationship that Elise just talked about between Egypt and Hamas right now. How do you see that?
AZARWell, I think that Hamas has been now identified not only by Israel, by the United States, by Europeans, by Canada, by Japan as a terrorist organization. They're also identified by Egypt as a terrorist organization. Because Hamas is sequestrated -- the Gaza Strip -- they are sequestrated -- they have sequestrated the Palestinian people. And I want to remind you that Israel has withdrawn from the Gaza Strip with the hope not to have to go back to the Gaza Strip to patrol the streets.
AZARI personally patrolled the streets of Gaza Strip when I was a soldier. And I don't want my daughters and my sons to do that. So we were hoping -- we were leaving nurseries behind. We were hoping that the Gazan people will take their destiny in their own hands. And they could become Singapore. They don't have to become a prison.
REHMHow much of the possibility is there that Israel may return to Gaza on a permanent basis?
AZARWell, we don't want to do that. We are supporting a two-state solution. We don't want to control the lives of the Palestinians. The question is whether the Palestinians are going to have a responsible leadership and not the leadership that just wants -- that says that it wants to break the siege. But the only thing that they want to do is have a permission to continue contraband of weapons.
REHMHisham, how large -- how much of the Palestinian population in Gaza supports Hamas and its actions?
MELHEMWell, Hamas years ago was elected and in part not because many people subscribe to Hamas's ideology but because they didn't like the corruption of Fatah and the Palestinian authority. And there is a lot of corruption obviously. Palestinians in general are not driven by Islamist impulses, if you will. This has been their historic, you know, tendencies. And I think Hamas can be and should be isolated politically. You have to help those who want -- who are seeking a different alternative.
REHMHow do you do that?
MELHEMWell, we had in April an agreement, a reconciliation between Fatah and Hamas because Hamas was on the ropes. They couldn't even pay the salaries of those people who are doing, you know, basic services.
REHMBut now they are far stronger.
MELHEMI think Israelis, when they attack, the way they attack, they enhance the radicalization of Palestinians.
REHMDo you agree with that, Elise?
LABOTTI do, but I also think that the United States and the international community and President -- Palestinian President Abbas himself did not give this agreement a chance to really see whether Hama could be isolated as a result. I mean, the object obviously was to empower Abbas. But in doing that, they gave all the money to Abbas to pay the salaries. He hasn't paid the salaries. And I think that basically...
MELHEMBut the Israelis did not want the salaries to be paid.
LABOTTWell, OK. And the United States also made sure that the Qataris couldn't pay the salaries by saying that that's against the U.S. law. But, Diane, I think -- and this goes back to what Hisham was saying in 2006 -- the international community boycotted Hamas, cut off all the money, never gave Hamas a chance to show whether they could govern, whether they really had the political acumen.
LABOTTAnd so they always set Hamas up as the offended party to continue the resistance. Perhaps if Hamas was given a chance, perhaps if Hamas was given a chance to be in the government now, then it would show that it was not worthy and would not be re-elected. And that would further empower the moderates.
AZARThis is completely ridiculous. People think that you can appease Hamas by sending them money. The only thing that Hamas will do with the money is to invest more in arming themselves and in attacking Israel. And they have proved that again and again. I want to remind Hisham -- he said that Hamas was elected. I'm sorry. Hamas had a violent takeover of the Gaza Strip. And the same neighborhood...
LABOTTAfter the international community boycotted it.
AZARThe same neighborhood in which we are fighting, in Shajaiyeh, is a neighborhood in which the Heles family, Heles clan, a Fatah clan, were exterminated by Hamas. They were thrown from rooftops, and they were shot hundreds of bullets in their kneecaps. That's the way Hamas took over Gaza. And we have to understand we are dealing here with an extremist movement that is sequestrating the population.
AZARAnd there is no support today in the population for Hamas. There is a decrease in support. Now this pact that they have signed, if this pact was about peace, that would be OK, and it's even not for conciliation because they haven't agreed to put all these terrorists in the Gaza Strip under the control of the PLO.
LABOTTWell, some people, including Former National Security Advisor Zbigniew Brzezinski, who is on many talk shows, including CNN in recent weeks, feels that this agreement should have been an opportunity that by, in effect, joining this national unity government, that although Hamas was never going to give some kind of public recognition of the state of Israel or say that it supported peace, but that was a tacit approval of what President Abbas was trying to do with the peace process.
LABOTTNow that was never -- that thesis was never given a chance to be tested. We don't know. And so by continuing to set up Hamas to continue the resistance, I think you really need to politically isolate Hamas in addition to militarily doing it because militarily is never going to work.
AZARYou know, and that's a (unintelligible)...
MELHEMAfter the agreement...
REHMHold on. Hisham, you were recently in Qatar and the United Arab Emirates. Talk about what they're doing and how they see what's going on here.
MELHEMBut briefly let me say, there was an agreement to establish a cabinet, and they established a cabinet. Not a single minister was from Hamas. Hamas was isolated. And the United States and the international community and Israel could have allowed money to be paid to those civil servants there, not through Hamas but through the U.N. or through the -- there are many ways of doing this. But the Israelis don't want a reconciliation among the Palestinians. They would be happy if Hamas just cowered down in Gaza and maintain this division among the Palestinians.
REHMBut they're not going to do that, so...
MELHEMAnd they're not going to do that, and you know that. And in two years from now, unfortunately you and I will probably be talking about the same issue.
REHMTalk about Qatar.
MELHEMLet me talk about Qatar. Qatar is the little city state that could or tries to do something that is much bigger than its size. They like to punch above their weight. And they have had a very negative influence throughout the region. They have helped the radical Islamists in Syria. They have helped Hamas. They have helped Hezbollah in the past. This is a tiny country that has tons of money. And they believe that, by throwing their money around, they can play regional power.
MELHEMAnd they please the Americans by paying a billion dollars to refurbish two airbases. And at the same time, they maintain -- used to maintain relationship with Saddam Hussein and the Iranians and Hamas and Hezbollah and all -- they play these games. And now they are competing with the big heavyweight Egypt. The problem is, as Elise said, you have a different government in Egypt that hates the Islamists. And they staged a coup against the Muslim Brotherhood, which they consider Hamas to be one of their offshoots.
REHMHow do you see them?
MELHEMSo we have all this competition between Egypt and Gaza, and the Palestinians are paying for it.
REHMHow do you see them?
AZARI think I agree with Hisham that the Qataris are playing a very negative role. They are supporting Hamas. And actually, as we speak, Jazeera is a propaganda tool of Hamas and is promoting more activity of Hamas on the ground. Now, I want to make it clear, Israel is not against Palestinian unity. We are for a Palestinian responsible government. We would like Hamas to disarm. We would like Hamas to be part of a political process. The international community, the Quartet, has presented three requirements for Hamas to become a legitimate player.
AZARBut if somebody thinks that by playing (unintelligible) -- Israeli is not against assistance of the -- we are facilitating assistance to the Gaza Strip again and again. Actually, we are the only ones now sending (word?) and food and fuel into the Gaza Strip. And we are being attacked as we try to do that because Hamas doesn't care about the population. They want to see as much civilian victims as they can in order to create an international crisis.
REHMElise, is that how you -- in your reporting on what's happening there, is that how you see it?
LABOTTWell, I think that the ambassador is right in some respects, that Israel does take care to avoid civilians. I think that...
REHM'Course the four young boys on the beach...
LABOTTThat -- well, look, Diane, Israel has a lot of precision weapons, and we've seen that over the past that, you know, they really can be very precise. And so I think that the worry of many Israelis is why there have been so many accidents. It is true that, on the other side of the border, Israel is opening up a field hospital.
LABOTTI think that, on the Palestinian unity question, I think that -- why don't we see President Abbas dong more? I mean, everybody talks about that Israel doesn't want unity. I think that President Abbas has really not helped himself in terms of -- you know, it's difficult for him politically, but he's not really speaking out too much about what Hamas is doing, really trying to be more -- you know, it's difficult for him.
LABOTTAnd I think on the Qatar question, this is what we're seeing playing out in the region right now is that there's a kind of divide between countries like Qatar and Egypt. Qatar and Turkey are supporting the Islamists. The Egyptians, you know, obviously are against the Muslim Brotherhood, and that's part of a greater Islamist (word?). So I think that, you know, this Palestinian question, while it used to be very localized to Israel and the Palestinians with a lot of Arab outrage now, you see regional rivalries and ideologies playing out.
AZARI want to remind the audience that the Palestinian question were always regionalize by different players and especially now when you have (unintelligible) civilizations going on in the Middle East and we are facing all these various kinds of extremist groups, we have to think together -- international community -- how to cope with that, how to isolate Hamas, how to impede a situation in which there are players, like Qatar that are trying to support it, and engage them in a positive way in order to create stability in our region.
REHMSuppose Israel cannot succeed in closing every single one of those tunnels. Does that mean the war will continue?
AZARRight now the IDF has a mission and that mission is to destroy those tunnels. That's what we are doing. We are not rejecting any initiative for a cease-fire. We are willing to go for a cease-fire immediately as we were at the beginning. And I hope that the efforts that Secretary Kerry together with the Egyptians, together with those forces who really wants to achieve a constructive cease-fire and to impede the continuation of contraband, the weapons to Gaza Strip will succeed.
MELHEMLook, we are reducing historic conflict that involves two people and conflict over territory and identity to a bunch of tunnels. This is -- we are losing sight of the real issue. We have almost 2 million people in Gaza, and their fate hangs in the balance. And I don't care about the regional machinations of Qatar and Egypt or Israel, whatever. We're talking about a human tragedy that's unfolding in Gaza.
MELHEMAnd then the Israelis tell us, oh, we build the hospital to show the wounded that we are, you know, causing -- 600 people died. And then the Israelis tell us, you know, you have to understand a little more language -- anguish. This is really nonsense. We have to focus on the real issue. And if we are not going to solve the underlying political issue, we're going to revisit this conflict again and again. And this is what is lost in the debate.
REHMAnd you're listening to "The Diane Rehm Show." If Hamas is saying they will not come back to the table until all these conditions are met, Hisham, demands like lifting restrictions on fishing, farming, import...
MELHEMWhat wrong with that?
REHMWell, but what I'm saying is that they're laying down all these conditions first. How do you get to the table to really negotiate a cease-fire if those conditions are first?
MELHEMBecause if you just accept the cease-fire, a return to the status quo...
REHMBut wouldn't that stop killing people?
MELHEMOf course, yeah. But then you have to have some sort of a framework. You know, why are we having a cease-fire, just to have a cease-fire as an end in itself? No. We need to have...
AZARSo just defined and continuing to (unintelligible)...
MELHEMNo, no. Wait a minute, you are continuing it, not me. We have to talk about the underlying political issues. Even this is what John Kerry's talking about. And when we -- you know, and even John Kerry, by the way, just as an aside, was mocking the Israelis when they talk about pinpoint attacks. They don't care about civilian lives. Let's put that out on the table.
MELHEMThe point is we have to deal with those people, treat those people humanely, if you want to undermine Hamas, as I would like to, you know. And also -- and I'll say it to my friend Elise -- you cannot expect -- Mahmoud Abbas was a weak leader, I agree -- to attack Hamas or the leadership now in Gaza at a time when the Israelis are killing Palestinians. There are real issues, immediate issues.
LABOTTI think that President Abbas has used his weakness as a strength for many years, not just in this conflict...
LABOTT...but across the whole time. I do agree with you though that the underlying core of this whole issue of every conflict that we've seen over the last several years is, you know, the Israeli occupation of the Palestinian territory. And, you know, you've got these 2 million Palestinians who are not becoming Israeli citizens.
LABOTTThere's no chance that they're going to get their own state any time soon. So essentially you have this kind of series of potential, you know, time bombs waiting to happen. And if there's not some solution to resolve the underlying issues of the conflict, we're going to keep having this thing. I think that what's going to happen, there's going to be a cease-fire in a couple of weeks with a lot of dead Israelis and a lot of dead Palestinians. Everyone is going to be very tired, and they're going to give up. And there's going to be a cease-fire. But we are not going to address the underlying causes of the conflict.
REHMIs that what you expect, Mr. Ambassador?
AZARWell, if you are very tired or not, we don't have any choice but to fight those extremists because those extremists are not interested in a peace process. We want to go back to peace negotiations. We want to go back to resolve this peacefully. We have left the Gaza Strip to the '67 border and what happened? What happened? Did we get peace?
AZARSo if you want to convince Israelis that they -- it is worthy to give back territory for peace, you have to show them that on the other side you will have a functioning government. Because today if we continue this war, what will happen? You will have ISIS in the Judean, Samarian and the West Bank towns. Is that what we want? Do we want Hamas in the West Bank? So we have to isolate the extremists. And as much as we do it together we are going to succeed.
AZARSo what I ask, what I require, and I think that the government of Israel requires, is the cooperation of the international community with Egyptians, with us, with other players to isolate Hamas and to create terms in the Gaza Strip in which you will have there sustainable quiet and support for the Palestinian people. Is that what we want? We want (unintelligible)...
MELHEMDiane, if I...
LABOTTI agree with that. I...
AZARThe Palestinian population is being sequestrated by Hamas. This is what people don't understand.
REHMAll right. Elise.
AZARIf you don't fight Hamas, they will continue.
LABOTTI agree with that. I agree with isolating Hamas, and I think Hisham does too. But I don't think anybody has put forward a kind of roadmap on how to do that. It's not going to be done militarily. How do you isolate them politically without trying to engage? You know, here's…
AZARYou don't (unintelligible)...
LABOTTHere's a question that I've had. When you look at the negotiations over Gilad Shalit, Israel paid a very heavy price, yes. You paid a thousand Palestinian prisoners for Gilad Shalit, but you were able to come to some kind of accommodation because you had common goals. Why can't something like that be done now?
AZARBecause to accommodate Hamas means to alienate the state of Israel. That's what they want to achieve.
REHMAll right. A short break here, and when we come back, time to open the phones for your questions, comments. Stay with us.
REHMAnd welcome back as we talk about the ongoing struggle, the hundreds of people being killed in the ongoing ammunition going back and forth between the Israel and Gaza. Let's go to Isa in Windsor Mill, Md. Hi. You're on the air.
ISAThank you. I think I want to start by mentioning that Nelson Mandela called -- said that the Palestinians are going through a worse apartheid than the South Africans were. After seeing Gaza, David Cameron called it an open-air prison. So what we have today is -- and to put things into context -- is that the prisoners of Auschwitz of today -- which is Gaza -- are rebelling against the Nazi prison guards. And we are here condemning them or condemning innocent blood because it's easy to do so. Not one person on the panel says or has the guts to say, yeah, I'll represent Hamas. How can we have an open debate when everybody on the panel agrees that they're anti-Hamas?
REHMAll right. Thanks for your call. Mr. Ambassador, an apartheid situation in Gaza?
AZARWell, I think it's ridiculous. Israel has withdrawn from the Gaza Strip, and we want Gaza to be free. But, unfortunately, what happened is that Gaza is being utilized as a tool for become a basis of Iran, a basis of attacks against Israel. And that's the last thing we want to see do -- we want to -- and I told the audience before that, you know, we would like Israel to come back to the Gaza Strip.
AZARWe want to stay out of the Gaza Strip. We want to give the population of Gaza Strip freedom. But the question is whether they are going to have a leadership that is going to concentrate in building a future for Gaza, instead of using the cement and concrete they are importing in order to build tunnels instead of building schools and nurseries.
REHMAll right. Let's go to Farmington Hills, Mich. Roberta, you're on the air.
ROBERTAHi. Thank you for taking my call. I'm a little concerned -- very concerned -- that I hear this compassionate talk about the people in Gaza, the Palestinian people. And in the whole conversation no one's addressing -- well, getting to -- I like the speakers who were talking about putting things in context. These people are in an open-air prison. And yet they're being punished because they've got an inside enemy, and then they've got Israel fighting them. They have no hope of ever getting out of this situation. And…
REHMDo you agree with that, Hisham?
MELHEMLook, I opposed Hamas, ideologically and politically. I do believe in a two-state solution. And I think if you -- just put things in context. John Kerry and (unintelligible) spent nine months working with the Palestinians and the Israelis and the Egyptians and others. And in the end, they failed. And most of the blame were put by them on the Israelis because of the settlement activities.
MELHEMSo now you have working in the West Bank, for instance, and then we cannot divide West Bank from Gaza. This is the same struggle for the same patrimony, Palestinian patrimony, right? The Israelis always talk, our existence is in danger. But I would like to turn the argument upside down. The existence of the Palestinians as a nation is also in danger.
MELHEMI don't like comparisons. I don't like to bring up Nazism to this discussion. This is unacceptable because these comparisons really make you lose sight of what's the real thing. And I don't even want to bring apartheid here. But I have to bring there's inhumane conditions under which the Palestinians in Gaza are living. And it's mostly because of Israel. And the settlement activities -- you cannot expect people to negotiate with you in good faith when you are pulling the ground from under their feet.
REHMAll right. Here's what I want to understand. What tools does the United States have to bring about not only a cease-fire, but some relaxation of what's happening to the people in Gaza? Is it money?
BARNARDIt's -- I don't think it's money because there are -- you know, look, Qatar, for instance, is willing to give money. I mean, I think that they could ease some of the…
REHMBut what about the aid to Israel?
BARNARDI think -- look, I think Iron Dome has really helped Israel, you know, ward off some of these rocket attacks. Look, nobody denies the fact that Israeli citizens are also under siege, having to run into bomb shelters at a moment's notice, against these rockets. Look, the United States could provide security guarantees. It can put pressure on all the parties. It could put pressure on Israel to relax some of the -- some of the restrictions on the Gaza border, if Israel's security needs are taken into account.
BARNARDI think what you're seeing from the United States here -- inevitably, in every conflict with Israel, the kind of long-held U.S. position that Israel has a right to defend itself rubs against the growing concern about the loss of civilian life. So clearly John Kerry wants to go out and try and do something. But if both parties don't want to end this or if they don't want to improve the situation on the ground, I'm not sure if John Kerry's, you know, obvious dogged determination is going to be enough this time.
REHMAll right. To Richard in Haverhill, Mass. You're on the air.
RICHARDYes. Thank you, Diane. The Palestinians have been under occupation for almost 50 years. They're more like colonial subjects. And let's review what's gone on for the last 50 years, what the conditions are there to live -- they have to live under. There have been homes bulldozed, all of wells destroyed. There's been settlements in the West Bank, more and more settlements being built.
RICHARDThey are trying now to build settlements in East Jerusalem, and that's where the Palestinians hope to have their capital -- if there's ever a two-state solution. So the status quo can't stay the way it is. And if Israel doesn't come to some sort of agreement for the Palestinians and allow them more freedom, I think -- I wish -- but it won't happen -- that we should have sanctions and boycott Israel like we're doing with Russia.
AZARI want to put things in context. First of all, we have to take into account that also we have a generation of Israelis -- mainly around Gaza -- that are --their childhood is passing through continuous attacks from the Gaza Strip. Number two, we want a two-state solution. The problem is we started with the Oslo Process more than 20 years ago. And we wanted to give a chance to Palestinians to build their institutions. And what is the result?
AZARThe result is that we are at the verge -- if we would have withdrawn, we are at the verge of creating another dysfunctional Palestinian state that, like Syria, like Iraq, like other dysfunctional Arab countries, is full with extremist forces, with terrorists, and we would have to be obliged, again and again, to deal with those. So what we need is a responsible and functional government.
REHMBut aren't you going to be obliged to deal with this situation again and again and again…
AZARExactly. Therefore we need the support…
AZARWhen it comes to the diplomatic course, we need the support of the international community to help Palestinians to create responsible, non-corrupt, non-violent institutions to secure the future of the Palestinian people. And, believe me, Israel withdrew -- we have peace agreements with Egypt. We have a peace agreement with Jordan. We will not hesitate to have a peace agreement with the Palestinians when we believe there is a chance for sustainable Palestinian state that is peaceful.
AZARNow, on the issue that was raised of the settlements, we haven't expanded the territory over the settlements. The -- we are talking about a few hundred houses that have been -- thousand of -- that we -- have been within Israeli neighborhoods in East -- in Jerusalem. This is not an impediment for the peace process. It is being used as an excuse.
MELHEMIt's the biggest impediment to it.
AZARSorry. It is being used as an excuse.
MELHEMYou are stealing somebody else's land.
REHMAll right. Hold on.
MELHEMYou are colonizing somebody else's land.
REHMHold on, Hisham.
AZARWe won't enter -- Jerusalem is the capital of Israel.
REHMWait a minute. I'm going to give you a chance.
MELHEMYou decided that.
AZARJerusalem is the center of the Jewish people for the last 3,000 years. We have to understand here that we can compromise. We have compromised in the past. We have -- we are willing to compromise in the future. We need a responsible and functional Palestinian leadership.
REHMAll right. Hisham?
MELHEMListen, they have been incorporating stealing Palestinian lands from the beginning. From the beginning, they never wanted to have Palestinian independent states. From Oslo -- before Oslo, from the minute they took over the West Bank, everything -- Israel was born by the arms, by force, and by expelling Palestinians from their native lands. Here we have in the Israeli government, officials, members of government, ministers who came -- born in Soviet Russia, and they brought with them the sickness of that Soviet culture, political culture.
MELHEMThey come and tell the Palestinians where they should go and what they should have. And the Palestinians can trace that history there for hundreds of years. We're talking about the denial of Palestinian nationhood. And they have been stealing the land, colonizing the land. And they expect those who are occupied to provide security to the occupier.
MELHEMIf there is anything surreal in the world, is that when you occupy somebody and you expect that occupied to give you security before they move, how can they build a viable state under occupation? Occupation can be maintained only by a system of coercion. Coercion, nothing else.
REHMAll right. I'm going back to the phones to Miami, Fla. Hi there, Bobby.
BOBBYHow you doing?
BOBBYYou know, I was hearing what the ambassador was saying. You know, both groups seem to be -- have the issue, Hamas continues to attack and kill. And the Israeli continues to expand these settlements and to the point where Europeans, as I understand it, as I've read, are boycotting some of the products that are coming out of these settlements that are causing these problems. Also, Mr. Ambassador, could you answer the question -- could you define what is a pin-point or a precision shelling? Thank you.
AZARYes. I will do that. Israel has mapped the Gaza Strip. And we are trying to target those rockets in those threats that emanate from the Gaza Strip. And we try to do it with extreme care. Now, you have to take into account that we are -- before we are doing the strikes, we're trying to warn the population in numerous way that -- which I explained. Sending text messages, phone calls, sending pamphlets from the air.
REHMBut what evidence, what…
AZARBut the problem is -- the problem is that some of the population is not…
REHMExcuse me. What evidence do you have, Mr. Ambassador, that Hamas is putting civilians out there, deliberately, as targets?
AZARBecause we have seen publicly the calls of Sami Abu Zuhri, the spokesperson of Hamas -- we have seen the official announcements of the minister of interior, of the government of Hamas…
AZAR…calling the people not to move and actually encouraging them, actively, to mount rooftops in order to prevent -- with human shields -- the attack of -- the attack of (unintelligible).
REHMElise, I'd like your comments on that.
LABOTTWell, look, there is no denying that Hamas does put weapons caches in the residential homes, sometimes in ambulances, sometimes in hospitals and kind of creates…
MELHEMIn hospitals? I mean, the -- I mean, I'd like to see a picture.
LABOTTThey've been found a lot over the years. Over the years Hamas…
MELHEMNo, no, no. I'd like to see a picture. You know, Netanyahu comes and said publicly they are putting…
LABOTTNo, no, no, no. But let me finish. Come on, Hisham.
AZARAsk UNRWA. UNRWA has said that Hamas has done this.
LABOTTLet me -- let me -- let me finish.
LABOTTLet me finish. There has been evidence that Hamas has basically tried to use -- put weapons in residential homes and other places. Whether they have said to the Palestinians, you know, go be a martyr and be a human shield, or kind of ordered them, I don't necessarily…
REHMHave you seen…
AZARI will send you emails that this…
MELHEMI did not see that. Look, there was an incident -- and that should be condemnable -- where they put rockets in a school and UNRWA discovered that. This is…
AZARThe people who have died...
REHMLet him finish.
MELHEMLook, I mean, you know, please don't…
MELHEMDon't trap yourself with morality. It doesn't work here. That should be condemned, obviously. The point is we are -- the Israelis tell the Palestinians to leave. Leave where? Give me an answer. Leave where?
MELHEMThis place is steaming with…
AZARWe told them exactly where to evacuate, beyond a certain road. (unintelligible) We asked them.
MELHEMSo I'll ask you to leave your home, Diane, so that I will bomb your home to smithereens. I mean, this is what they do. They do capital punishment.
AZARYes. If terrorists are in your home, what are you going to do?
MELHEMIf they caught a Palestinian doing something illegal, right? Let's say…
MELHEMOK. You punish the whole family. You destroy the whole house.
AZAROK. So should we invade the Gaza Strip in order to -- in order to take care of Hamas?
MELHEMThis is the worst kind of occupation.
AZARIs that what you are saying? Is that -- that's what you're saying?
MELHEMThat's the occupation that they want us -- that they want the Palestinians to appreciate?
AZARHamas is the problem.
REHMAnd you're listening to "The Diane Rehm Show." And surely our listeners can discern from the difficulties we're having here with this conversation how difficult it must be to bring all parties together to try to talk about this in a rational way. Elise?
LABOTTI think it is…
AZARLike (unintelligible) Hamas. You don't want to talk rationally.
LABOTTI think -- listen, there are so many entrenched positions on both sides.
LABOTTAnd I think that's been one of the problems of Secretary Kerry in these nine months that he really made, you know, really strong efforts, going back and forth between the parties. But what he said is if the parties don't want to make the necessary compromises themselves, you know, this is really going to be what happened.
LABOTTAnd I think this conflict, and the one that we saw two years ago, and the one in 2008, the root of it is the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. And I think until there is some type of political, you know, resolution, where the Palestinians have their own state, we're destined to repeat this.
REHMAll right. And finally…
MELHEMThe root of it is occupation.
REHM…to Amir, in Fort…
AZARAnd terrorists. Terrorists (unintelligible)…
REHM…Lauderdale, Fla. You're on the air.
AMIRThank you for taking my call.
AMIRI just wanted to say -- I have a comment and also a question for the Palestinian gentleman. My comment is also I just want everybody to remember that when Israel withdrew from southern Lebanon in 2000, that now we have 150,000 rockets aiming towards Israel. I also have a question for the Palestinian gentleman. How does building tunnels and find -- you know, obviously costs hundreds of millions of dollars to build these elaborate tunnel systems, and these thousands, if not tens of thousands, of rockets -- how does that help the Palestinian cause?
REHMWe had an email to the same effect.
MELHEMYeah, sure. As I said…
REHM"Why not spend the money on the Palestinians themselves?"
MELHEMYeah, yeah, but I mean, just -- let's talk about context. The Israelis withdrew without an agreement. They imposed the siege. They control the shoreline. They control the space. They control the borders and everything. These people, as I said, they live in a huge internment camp. I don't want to call it more than that. When you put people in these conditions, they are going to burrow underground and build tunnels. And most of these tunnels are for smuggling, for economic reasons. And, yes, they are used now…
AZARThose are the tunnels for (unintelligible)...
REHMHold on, hold on.
MELHEMAnd when you impose siege on them and when they expect that you will be hit, they are going to hit the Israelis, too. This is a situation of war. Unless you address the underlining political issue, which is occupation and siege and dehumanization of a whole population, we are not going to end this conflict.
REHMHow long do you expect this siege to continue, Elise?
LABOTTI think it's going -- like I said, I think it's going to go on for another couple of weeks. I don't think -- I'll let the ambassador say, but I don't think that Israel is ready, necessarily, to stop. The prime minister has said, "Quiet for quiet," at great political cost. But I don't know if that's -- I think that there are some larger aims to degrade Hamas' capability. I think on the Palestinian side, I just think when people are weary of this conflict there'll be some kind of cease-fire. And that'll be temporary.
REHMDo you believe, Hisham, that Hamas will, in fact, get some of the concessions that it's asking for?
MELHEMI think in the end, they will have to get something that will alleviate the suffering of the people. And I think if we have wise leadership in the international community or in Israel or in Egypt or in Washington, they should address the plight of the Palestinians and try to isolate Hamas politically.
REHMAll right. And, Mr. Ambassador, last word.
AZARI agree we have to isolate Hamas. And we have to do in effort together, that this cease-fire, when it arrives, will be sustainable. If that means putting some relief on the Palestinian people, we want -- we support that. But we have to impede Hamas from rearming and to demilitarize the Gaza Strip.
REHMReuven Azar, he's deputy Israeli ambassador to the U.S., Elise Labott, global affairs correspondent with CNN, Hisham Melhem of Al-Arabiya News Channel, let us hope and pray that this conflict comes to an end soon. Thank you all for being here.
MELHEMAmen. Thank you.
REHMThanks for listening, all. I'm Diane Rehm.
ANNOUNCER"The Diane Rehm Show" is produced by Sandra Pinkard, Denise Couture, Susan Casey, Rebecca Kaufman, Lisa Dunn, Danielle Knight, and Alison Brody and Alexandra Botti. The engineer is Timothy Olmstead. Natalie Yuravlivker answers the phones.
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