Middle East
5:34 am
Sat November 24, 2012

Israel, Hamas Suspended In Fragile Cease-Fire

Originally published on Sun November 25, 2012 9:07 am

Transcript

SCOTT SIMON, HOST:

While President Morsi deals with the fallout from his power-grab at home, the cease-fire that he helped broker in Gaza survives, at least so far. For more on the latest from Israel and Gaza, we're joined by Anthony Kuhn in Jerusalem and Philip Reeves in Gaza City. Gentlemen, thanks very much for being with us.

PHILIP REEVES, BYLINE: You're welcome.

ANTHONY KUHN, BYLINE: Thanks, Scott.

SIMON: Philip, let's start with you there in Gaza City. You've been out on the streets today and tonight. What's the thinking and feeling of many people there? Do they believe that Hamas has scored some kind of victory?

REEVES: Yes, a lot of Gazans do actually believe that. That may seem strange given the loss of more than 160 lives, you know, civilians and children included, hundreds are wounded, hundreds of buildings destroyed or damaged. But many here believe that Hamas stood up to Israel.

They think that Israel's Prime Minister, Benjamin Netanyahu, launched the military offensive from Gaza to bolster his support ahead of elections in Israel in two months time. They think he wanted a ground invasion, but was forced to accept a cease-fire because of Hamas' robust response.

And I think the fact that Hamas and other militant groups were able to fire rockets that reached Tel-Aviv, Israel's commercial capital, and also got close to Jerusalem, is a source of particular pride here. They haven't done that before. The fact that the hundreds of these rockets were fired out of Gaza and most of them were intercepted or didn't hit their targets doesn't seem to affect this narrative. People think they managed to instill panic and fear among Israelis.

SIMON: Philip, what do Hamas and its supporters want now in coming cease-fire negotiations?

REEVES: One of the big focuses of interest when it comes to what they want next is of course the lifting of the blockade. But people here are quite skeptical about that. There's an understanding from people I've been talking to that if it happens at all it will be a very long time in the negotiating.

And I think there's also skepticism about how long this cease-up fire will hold. Let's not forget that only yesterday there was a flurry of concern surrounding its possible survival after Israeli forces shot a Palestinian in Southern Gaza.

SIMON: Anthony Kuhn in Jerusalem, how were Israelis seeing the deal their government made to bring about this cease-fire?

KUHN: Opinion is very mixed, Scott, but there's been quite a bit of criticism from some Israelis, particularly in the south who are most vulnerable to rocket fire, who feel that the military operation really should have continued, because otherwise Hamas and the other militants will rearm and start firing rockets at them again before long.

Now if Hamas does rearms, which it says it will do, then some Israelis ask, should the government invade Gaza and topple Hamas? Now, Israeli officials have hinted that this is the only long-term solution to the problem, but it was clear that this was not an option this time. The military was poised to invade, but an invasion was not listed as an actual goal of the military operation. Why? Because, first of all, if they had, then they might still be fighting at election time. It would have interfered with elections.

And also, they were getting a lot of diplomatic pressure from Western governments, particularly the U.S. All this raises the fundamental question of, you know, what should be done with Gaza, who should rule it? Direct rule would be a problem for Israel, indirect rule through Hamas is still a problem.

SIMON: And in a sense, Anthony, is the Gaza situation a sideshow or maybe even more accurately a kind of warm-up act for Israel's main strategic concern, which is Iran.

KUHN: Well, it certainly had part of the same picture in this area. It's true, Israel sees Iran as its principle strategic adversary and it believes that it may have an atomic bomb as early as, you know, next spring or summer. Now, in the region, Iran's main allies include Hezbollah, the Shiite militant group in Lebanon to Israel's north. Also there's Syria, but that regime has its hands full with the civil war at the moment.

Now, in Gaza, we should mention that while Hamas gets missiles from Iran, it has become somewhat estranged from the Iranian government because Hamas - some people in Hamas side with the Sunni rebels fighting the Syrian regime. But Iran has good ties with the other main Islamist faction in Gaza, which is Palestinian Islamic Jihad. So if Israel gets into a fight with Iran, it must contend with the possibility of threats from Gaza and Lebanon.

But of those, Hezbollah is the better armed and the better trained adversary,

SIMON: How soon do you think we might see any kind of development in the negotiations that are ahead? Any kind of change in the situation there on the ground?

KUHN: Well, Scott, there have been reports that, in fact, Egyptian intelligence is already brokering negotiations and the two sides are staking out positions in the media with Hamas saying, for example, that the cease-fire says nothing about Hamas and the militant's groups right to re-arm themselves. So there's going to be sparring on this, over these main issues, all along.

SIMON: Based on what you both know in the region and what you've seen on the ground there so far, has President Morsi weakened the hand that he might have had in negotiations going forward, if he has to contend with dissatisfaction with his rule at home in Egypt?

REEVES: I haven't heard anyone express that thought. I think it's important to realize that Hamas sees its relationship with the new government in Egypt as extremely important. And one of the reasons it's been bolstered by events in recent days is because people here believe that it's ended its period of isolation internationally and now has some political clout on the global stage and people value that.

I think the other issue that has preoccupied Palestinians is the possible that off the back of the recent developments and that perceived victory there will now be a move to unify ending the riff that has been there for a long time now between the Palestinian authority of the West Bank and Hamas who rule the Gaza Strip.

SIMON: Philip Reeves in Gaza City, Anthony Kuhn in Jerusalem, thank you both very much.

REEVES: You're welcome.

KUHN: Thank you, Scott.

(SOUNDBITE OF MUSIC)

SIMON: You're listening to NPR News. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright National Public Radio.