'Streets determining Middle East path'
November 20th, 2012
11:01 AM ET

'Streets determining Middle East path'

CNN speaks with United States Institute of Peace-Wilson Center Distinguished Scholar Robin Wright about the ongoing violence between Israel and Gaza, and the changing calculations of Hamas.

The ground operation, we’re told, is on hold while there’s an opportunity for negotiations and diplomacy to work. How long do you think it’s on hold for?

There’s the potential for, at any moment, one of the real extremist groups like Islamic Jihad to start firing missiles to try to undermine diplomacy. But the sequence of events will likely play out for two or three days. Hillary Clinton doesn’t even arrive until much later today.

And then you have to deal with the core problem, and that’s the chicken and egg argument. The Israelis are saying we want a ceasefire and then we’ll talk about the political issues. Whereas Hamas is saying, we want a package that includes not just the process of a ceasefire, but the substance – the political substance – of what are we going to get out of this.

They believe they’ve lived under an Israeli cordon for years now and the missiles were, in part, an effort to force Israel to kind of recognize that it had to deal with the Hamas government in Gaza. So you have this core problem of what are you even negotiating?

So you’ve been in the region and you’re just back. What are people there saying to you? What have you seen there? What do you think is a way forward in terms of what the people want?

Well, that’s the important question. And over the last two years, we’ve seen that the streets are really determining so much of what’s happening in the region. And many of the governments that are involved in trying to negotiate – whether it’s Egypt, or you’ve seen the Arab League, the Tunisian foreign minister has been in Gaza – a lot of them have to respond to the mood in the streets. And the longer this goes on, the angrier the streets are going to get.

And they also have the problem of delivering the kind of economic benefits that most people engaged in the uprisings really want. So, there’s an enormous pressure on the Arab governments, including President Morsi in Egypt, to try to get a solution to this as soon as possible.

More from CNN: How the conflict reignited

And one of the most interesting dynamics has been the number of calls between President Obama and President Morsi. They are developing a functioning, working relationship. And now, Hillary Clinton’s most important stop on this trip will be in Cairo for talks with President Morsi.

Earlier, an official said these missiles that launched have three words on them – “made in Iran.” But we also have heard that Hamas and Iran have had somewhat of a tense relationship since Hamas supported the uprising in Syria. What’s that relationship and what's Iran’s role right now?

Absolutely. Remember, there are sectarian issues here. Iran is predominantly Shiite, and Hamas is predominantly Sunni. And the interesting fact is that the leader of Hamas moved headquarters out of Damascus and sided with the opposition. There is that real tension.

In many ways, Gaza reflects the kind of rivalry playing out in Syria and elsewhere in the region. Hamas relies on Iran for military training and its most important weaponry. But there is this tension over Syria. It’s in Syria’s interest right now to see all the world’s attention focused on Gaza rather than on Damascus to take some of the pressure off.

More from GPS: Why land for peace is dead

But these relationships in the region are shifting. Part of what we’re seeing, little Gaza, it’s important not just for what happens on Arab-Israeli issues but also on the wider dynamics of the shifting sands across the Middle East.

Let me ask you a question about what happens with Hamas, depending how this plays out. There’s one theory, Dennis Ross from the Washington Institute of Near East Policy said this on Monday.  He said, “One of the things that may have affected Hamas’ calculus in terms of being able to run more risks with Israel is a sense that there’s a new Egypt, there’s sympathy in Egypt for what’s going on. War with Israel is not attractive to Egypt, that there'’ a risk.” Is Hamas getting stronger over time because of these sorts of conflicts?

Well, remember, Hamas really had been marginalized recently with President Abbas talking about resuming the peace process, even putting on the table the issue of the Palestinian refugees right of return, which is a core issue to many Palestinians. And he was saying it’s now negotiable or indicating it might be. Also, that he was going to the United Nations to ask for an elevation of Palestinian status to nonmember statehood. That he looked like he had the power of the Palestinians.

And these two entities, the West Bank and Gaza, have been now divided since 2007, and they’ve been rivals in trying to be the main representative of the Palestinian people. And Mahmoud Abbas had been the primary figure. Now, you find Hamas is playing its cards to become the recognized – not just in Gaza, but in the West Bank as well. This is likely to increase its support and [is] getting far more attention from across the Arab World.

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Topics: Middle East

soundoff (10 Responses)
  1. K

    Hi there.

    November 20, 2012 at 1:29 pm | Reply
  2. deniz boro

    Muslim issue was only a local one concerning Israel (Which it dealt with on its own time, terms and free rein as it whished) untill Sept 11. Untill Sept 11 Muslims were considered as underdeveloped nuisance nomads some of which had oil in the land. Muslim lands were free to exploit and to utilise as a backgarden resourse field untill some radical Islam party became noxious.While it was a garaden of resources several countries created means to get more of those resources. Just as any power group do anywhere around the world.
    But if you create an untrained pack of dogs, you should as well have the means to control them.
    Look back into history and particularly into how and why Israilites were placed on the borders of ancient Egypt. I will give you a summary: The Israilites were fierce wariors as the original group. Another version of history tells that they were removed from the capital of Eygypt because there was a change of Pharaohs.
    I do rever all religions But meanwhile I just cannot close my eyes to history.
    Actual sincere study on "What Islam is" started with Prince Charles back in the 80's. But was not shared by the rest of the world.
    And one more point. Where is Israel located now. What is it doing. And for whom?

    November 20, 2012 at 2:09 pm | Reply
    • deniz boro

      For proof please refer back to Holywood films of 1980's or before. An Englished friend of mine landed in Istanbul back in 1983 and asked me "Where are the camels to take us through the desert?"

      November 20, 2012 at 2:19 pm | Reply
  3. j. von hettlingen

    The Hamas might have a lot of support in Gaza and wants to outdo Abbas' Fatah in the West Bank to represent all Palestinians. But Hamas has a problem: it's not recognised in the West. Both the US and the EU don't deal with them and see them as a terrorist organisation, especially the military wing, the al Qassam brigade. Hamas has Egypt's sympathy, but it's not enough to win the world's support.

    November 21, 2012 at 6:56 am | Reply
  4. Lex

    Hamas should be humiliated and its leadership taken out. And the world should rejoice.

    November 21, 2012 at 9:30 am | Reply
  5. Benise

    to the president of syria, it disgusts me how you bring chaos in your country when you as its president should be the one who brings peace and order. i demand you to step down from your position.

    Benise Madamba, 2pol1
    University of Santo Tomas

    November 21, 2012 at 8:07 pm | Reply
  6. Kiara

    The current ruling head of the government of Syria, President Assad should step down from his position for if he continues to govern this state, it will continue to be the end of human rights for his people. The state is at war within themselves now between those who oppose and are fighting for their right and those who simply go by. This comment recognizes the Syrian National Council as a call or voice for the change of Syrian Government and the end to the Ba'athist government. The people have been searching for their shelter and dignity yet the government not only discourages this but one could also be killed for it. In which the recent Syrian Civil War has proven my strong opposition to the government's power and support for its change that peace should be advocated but only possible if the current President were to leave his position.

    Mijares, Kiara Isabelle D., 2LM2, University of Santo Tomas

    November 28, 2012 at 5:14 am | Reply
  7. Yannah Marielle Reyes

    We want to ask President Assad to step down from his position so that the people of Syria could experience human rights as well. A good leader should know how to lead his people, leaders should be the one to bring peace and order with his people.

    Reyes, Yannah Marielle V. 2BES2, Uiversity of Santo Tomas, yannahmariellereyes@yahoo.com

    December 1, 2012 at 10:40 pm | Reply
  8. bystander

    to Pres. Assad, please sir, Step down, the heavens and the Earth are not oblivious to your pain inflictions. Give the people of Syria what is rightfully due to them.

    Angelica Damasen
    2 els UST

    December 3, 2012 at 11:16 pm | Reply

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