Middle East
4:15 pm
Mon July 14, 2014

Hopes And Hazards Of A Cease-Fire: A View From Israel

Originally published on Mon July 14, 2014 6:24 pm

Transcript

ROBERT SIEGEL, HOST:

This is ALL THINGS CONSIDERED from NPR News. I'm Robert Siegel.

AUDIE CORNISH, HOST:

And I'm Audie Cornish. Now to the fighting between Israel and the Palestinian Islamist group Hamas. Late today, Egypt proposed a cease-fire in which the two sides would end hostilities as of tomorrow morning. Israeli leaders say they'll take it up tomorrow. It's unclear whether that will go anywhere. We're going to hear an Israeli view and a Palestinian view about what could be at play in any negotiations over a cease-fire - first, to Tel Aviv.

SIEGEL: Michael Oren is the former Israeli ambassador to the United States. In a column for cnn.com, he writes that it is still possible to avoid a ground war in Gaza if Egypt brokers a cease-fire between Israel and Hamas as it did in 2008 and in 2012. Michael Oren, welcome to the program once again.

MICHAEL OREN: Good to be with you, Robert.

SIEGEL: Israelis say that a cease-fire should not be an occasion for Hamas to rearm. It shouldn't just bring a brief period of calm. What would Israel need to get, and what would it offer in the way of an agreement that might bring that about?

OREN: We have to change the status quo. We have to create a situation where Israelis are no longer threatened by Hamas missiles, but the Palestinians of Gaza also have an interest. This can be done by demilitarizing the Hamas arsenal in the way that chemical weapons were removed from Bashar al-Assad's arsenal in Syria. The Israeli blockade could then be eased. An economic package can be offered by the international community to develop Gaza. The economy there is very depressed because of Hamas misrule. And Hamas would remain the de facto sovereign in Gaza, but it would no longer threaten Israel or any of its other neighbors. And we can change the status quo and get on to a more stable footing.

SIEGEL: When Hamas people have spoken of their terms from a cease-fire, they mention lifting the Israeli blockade. They mention opening the crossing into Egypt - also, prisoner releases. Are Israelis and Hamas in the same broad zone in terms of what they're looking at as terms for cease-fire, or really is it simply impractical at this point?

OREN: I think that in terms of easing the blockade, opening the crossings, both from Israel into the Gaza as well as to Egypt as in Gaza, and talking about the prisoners - these are prisoners who had been released as part of the Corporal Gilad Shalit deal and were rearrested after the abduction and murder of three Israeli teenagers in mid-June. Certainly, Israel could revisit the arrest of those Hamas activists in the West Bank at a later stage, but the positions of Israel and the Hamas leadership in Gaza are not that far apart. If Israel wants to remove the rockets - if Israel wants to restore security to its citizens, Israel could ease up that blockade if the rockets were removed. Israel could open up the crossings. If Egypt were induced to cooperate more closely with United States, then Egypt would open its crossing into Gaza. It's a grand strategy, but with the right leadership and the right cooperation in the international community, I believe it could work.

SIEGEL: Implicit in everything you're saying is a realistic Israeli acceptance of Hamas as the power in Gaza. Is it time for Israel to start openly dealing with Hamas and accepting - like them or not - those are the guys who run that part.

OREN: Israel has implicitly interacted with Hamas over the years, whether in reaching cease-fires or in negotiating the release of Corporal Gilad Shalit. Israel adheres to the principles of the quartets, which is that Hamas cannot be a party to the peace process. It can't be an interlocutor as long as Hamas does not renounce terror - as long as Hamas does not recognize Israel's right to exist - as long as Hamas does not recognize previous agreements between Israel and the Palestinian Authority. And Hamas has repeatedly and openly rejected those terms. So Israel would continue, probably, to implicitly interact with Hamas without recognizing Hamas - without actually sitting down at a table with Hamas. Frankly, I don't think Hamas is ready to sit down at a table with Israelis.

SIEGEL: That's former Israeli ambassador to the United States Michael Oren, speaking to us from Tel Aviv. Ambassador Oren, thanks a lot for talking with us.

OREN: Pleasure to be with you. Thank you, Robert. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

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