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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