July 29th, 2014
05:11 PM ET

Understanding the violence in Gaza

CNN’s New Day speaks with Fareed Zakaria about the roots of the unrest in the Middle East. This is an edited version of the transcript.

Who are the key players, and what are their current positions?

Benjamin Netanyahu is, of course, the prime minister of Israel, a longtime hawk and longtime hardliner on Israeli security issues. John Kerry is the secretary of state who never stops trying which, you know, has caused some controversy. And Khaled Meshaal is a somewhat unknown figure compared to these two. The head of Hamas, he doesn’t live in Gaza because I think he would not stay alive in Gaza, and so he has moved around various places – Qatar and places like that.

Let’s make sure everybody understands what the playing field is, what Israel wants. No more rockets.

You can understand why. The important thing to point out is even though, of course, very few Israelis die because of these rockets because the iron dome air defense system is really quite extraordinary, it still paralyzes the society. Some of these rockets could get through. Everyone is in bomb shelters, and it produces a state of heightened urgency. Imagine any society having to live with that. So that's why the rockets are important, even though they don't…of course, the range and accuracy could keep getting better.

It has kept getting better. You don't want to confuse the success of the defensiveness of Israel with its dome and other defense systems with absence of a threat. So that’s why demilitarizing Gaza is very important.

Right. This is the big demand in a sense – a demilitarized Gaza so that you don't face a constant threat. This is, of course, the hardest one to do, because in today's world it's so easy to get small arms, light ammunition, all kinds of things, and Hamas has been doing it for decades now.

And the tunnels play into that…

Right. And you see that these tunnels are fairly elaborate and well done. As people have pointed out, they are concrete. How do you prevent the building of concrete tunnels? What kind of embargo do you have to put in place? Gaza lives under a very, very tight Israeli embargo. That means you allow people not to get concrete. Concrete is fungible. You can use it for anything, and the problem is, therefore, how do you stop getting concrete in when they may want it to build schools?

Now the obvious thing on the other side, for Hamas, is to lift the siege.

It's important to point out what that means. Hamas is currently under siege from land, sea and air. That is to say it’s very difficult for people to get there, for goods to get there. There are huge restrictions on items, many of which are items that are simply the kind of things you need for daily life.

Which is part and parcel of their main demand, which is to end occupation. They believe Israel doesn’t belong in the settlement areas where it is.

And an important point to make here is some Israelis say, well, we withdrew our forces. However, if you control all access points to Gaza – all land, all air, all electronics – you are effectively the occupier, whether or not you actually have physical troops on the ground.

So you believe that this is a fair assertion?

Well, it’s fair to say that they don’t have independence. They don’t have an independent state.

The reason Israel would say it needs to be in that position of all the entry points is Hamas does not want Israel to exist.

Precisely. So here we have the two demands that get conflated. This is the 1967 demand and the 1948 demand. The 1967 demand is when Israel won the Six-Day War, it occupied the West Bank and Gaza, lands previously occupied by Jordan and Egypt. Those lands have now been under Israeli rule for almost 50 years, right? Now that is what when people in the West Bank say they want an end to the occupying, that's clearly what they mean. They want Israel to withdraw with a few swaps, and a lot of people in Israel would agree.

Hamas, in addition, says it doesn't want Israel to exist. That's the “war of 1948,” that was established in the first place. That's what a lot of Israelis say they will never give into because, of course, they’re not going to be part of their annihilation.

That takes us back to what really matters at this particular point, which is the blame game – who is doing what to stall peace? Netanyahu, as you pointed out, is known as a hawk. He doesn’t believe that anything he gives will be returned with what he wants most, which is a lack of military action by Hamas. Fair?

Fair. Look, I would say the way to think about this, since you asked who is to blame, is that in the short term, Hamas is to blame. They began the conflict and began sending the rockets up. They do have a maximalist position, which says we don't recognize Israel's right to exist. They’ve softened it in various indirect ways, but never come out directly and said they will recognize Israel's right to exist as long as it withdraws to its '67 borders.

Is there any legitimate rationale for using violence in terms of the threat that is facing Hamas, facing the Palestinians right now?

Now you're getting into one of the great questions of international relations, which is from their point of view, they would say this is a national movement to get an independent state, that the African National Congress used violence – many, many independence movements use violence.

They're saying it's a method of liberation.

But as I say, if it were to end occupation it would be one thing. Given that they won't recognize Israel, it becomes more difficult.

I think Netanyahu doesn't have as much blame in the short term. In the long term I would say the problem is this – what is his strategy? At the end of the day, you have the occupation for 47 years. In 2008, Ehud Olmert had a similar war against Gaza. I was more sympathetic then, because Olmert was engaged in a serious negotiation with the Palestinians to try to create a two-state solution. Benjamin Netanyahu has done essentially no negotiating with the Palestinians on that front. So it’s fair to say you are right in the short term, but what is the long-term strategy? Are you going to be back here a year from now, five years from now?

They don't talk to each other without intervention. Egypt has been helpful in the past, a little unstable right now. Kerry is the main man in the latest round. Does he deserve the criticism he’s getting now?

I don't think so. I think that what Kerry is trying to do, to be fair to the American effort, was to create some kind of process by which there could be a negotiation, there could be dialogue, there could be some meeting of minds – even if on smaller issues like creative humanitarian corridors.

The rap against him is that we don't deal with Hamas, the United States doesn't, he shouldn't have indirectly legitimized Hamas by saying let's have a cease-fire immediately and should have let Hamas get weaker and weaker. The problem is civilians are dying, and he's trying to stop it. In the immediate context, the only way you can have a cease-fire is between these two parties. They're the two warring parties. Some people say they should have done an end run and gone to the Palestinian Authority in the West Bank saying I recognize you as legitimate. Fine, but that's not going to get you a cease-fire today. And it’s not going to stop the killing.


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soundoff (363 Responses)
  1. wazoo

    As a muslim I sympathize with Palastinians and their rights and freedom. What is happening to them is really sad and heartbreaking. But at the same time I believe that Israel has a right to exist as a state. After some sixy years of fighting it is time to make peace. If only Hamas would acknowledge the right of Israel and if only Israel would stop starving and chocking Palastinians. Love and peace
    .

    August 11, 2014 at 12:48 am | Reply
    • love your comment

      If you really think about it, what the Israelis have done to the Palestinians, since 1948, is not very different than what the Anglos did to the Native Americans, in North America, from 1620 until today. Basically, the Anglos were better armed, just like the Israelis, and had every intention to create a Nation on Native American soil, just like the Israelis. Unfortunately, the Native Americans brought bows and arrows to gun fight. And Palestinians brought stones and Katusha rockets to an F16, Cruise Missile, Tank, M16, Drone and Iron Dome fight!!!!! So what followed, was the most brutal act of murder, followed by theft, in the history of mankind! Sound familiar??? And yes, the Native Americans got "shoved" onto reservations, just like the Palestinians got "shoved" onto the West Bank and Gaza. The only difference is that the amount of land stolen and the amount of natives murdered was approx 10,000 times more.......... think about this...........

      August 11, 2014 at 3:47 am | Reply
      • wazoo

        It seems to me that there r an awful lot of people that have been benefiting from this ongoing conflict. First, the united states makes huge profit by building and selling weapons to both sides of the conflict. Second, the Iranian govenment would not want this to end. Hamas and Hezbollah fighters train in Iran. Iran gives millions of dollars to Hamas and hezbollah. Iranians r suffering with unemployment as high as 40%. That is people money. Also, what a hypocrite united states is. In one hand, we build Israel a three billion dollar irom dome with tax payers money not to mention congress just passed a 347 million dollar aid to Israel and on the other hand we send delegates such as john kerry to broker a peace deal. And did I mention how much money we give to Palastinians and saudis and Egyptians and on and on.... did we not give not give money ti Irag to fight against Iran? Then, we went and invaded their country and killed him. And now those weapons that we sold to Saddam hussein r in the hands if Isis. Did we not give weapons to Osama bin laden against the Soviet Union and how did he repay us? I hope one day Israel and arabs or jews and muslims will get along.

        August 11, 2014 at 1:35 pm |
      • the reason for the season

        thanks wazoo. your comments are based on sad facts. When you are the world's biggest military hardware manufacturer, you end up dealing in death, basically, so that you can make lots of money. America has earned this dubious distinction many times over. think about it: if you can sell arms to "peter" and "paul" so that peter and paul can kill each other, and then sell arms to "jimmy" who dared to interfere, and then sell arms to "andrew", "john" and "jack" so that they can protect themselves from being attacked by peter, paul and jimmy, aren't you going to be laughing all the way to the bank??? the only problem, you are aiding and abetting murder, you are an accomplice to destruction, you are the biggest bully on the planet, and you dare not admit it......

        August 11, 2014 at 3:13 pm |
      • Harry Legg

        Now the American Indians are building casinos and buying back America with the white man's money. Ironic I would say.

        August 13, 2014 at 5:09 am |
  2. brokenkey

    Israel=NEW MODERN NAZI

    August 12, 2014 at 12:09 am | Reply
  3. Gogo

    Guys, it is not as complicated as you think. It is actually fairly visible, but very clever and who would believe it. Ask yourselves the following questions and answer them with facts mentioned on CNN.
    Who supplied the concrete for the tunnels to be built?
    Where were the tunnels leading to?
    Through where the rockets were supplied to Gaza? So, who could the supplier be?
    Who is the stronger opponent in the conflict?
    Would a weaker opponent benefit from any conflict?
    When the present leader of Hamas was poisoned, who new what the poison was, and gave him the antidote? – Not sure if this one was mentioned on CNN. Dig through the web. You will find out.
    Which territory gets smaller and which bigger after each conflict?
    Which side of the conflict looses more people in the fights ?
    Are all negotiations public or behind closed doors.
    So if you had answered the questions above with facts, but not opinions, the following questions should be real easy to figure out:
    Who created Hamas?
    Who needs Hamas?
    Who is Hamas working for?

    August 12, 2014 at 10:46 pm | Reply
  4. Amir Farsi

    who is getting the most benefit out of this situation? blame them.
    1-Islamic Regime of Iran. They are the one who support Hamas. They are the one who arm them and they are the one who support the policy of violence and then hide behind civilians. This has been IRI policy to make Israel looks bad. They know what they are doing. This way they can justify their anti-west policy and use this violence for their propaganda for their people in Iran
    2- Israeli right party. Benjamin Netanyahu and his party also gets benefit from violence. He gets more popular in Israel every time Israel response back to Hamas rackets. And now more than any time people in Israel support his anti-peace policy.

    August 13, 2014 at 1:57 am | Reply
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