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.
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.
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.