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? FULL POST

Why Qatar could be key to a Gaza ceasefire
July 24th, 2014
11:40 AM ET

Why Qatar could be key to a Gaza ceasefire

By Sultan Barakat, Special to CNN

Editor’s note: Sultan Barakat is director of research at the Brookings Doha Center and Senior Fellow at the Brookings Center for Middle East Policy. The views expressed are the writer’s own.

Egypt has long been viewed as a key player in the Middle East peace process – a major Arab country willing to engage with Israel while endeavoring, however begrudgingly, to advance the interests of the Palestinian people. But as the Israeli military campaign on the Gaza strip continues, it is becoming increasingly clear that Egypt’s new government might not be in a position to broker a ceasefire this time around. Indeed, Western powers might find themselves having to look for help from a different partner: Qatar.

Under President Abdel Fattah el-Sisi, Egypt has proven more adept at securing the backing of politicians and diplomats in Tel Aviv, Washington and New York for a peace initiative than it has at reaching out to Palestinians. This is especially the case as far as the leaders of Hamas in Gaza are concerned, many of whom only learned of the ceasefire proposal through media reports.

And while Hamas rejected the agreement “in its current form,” Cairo has shown seemingly little interest in genuinely appreciating Hamas’ take on the causes of the conflict or modifying the terms of the proposed ceasefire to address the longer term issues. In fact, Egypt under el-Sisi has attacked the Islamist group as part of its relentless crackdown on the Muslim Brotherhood, with former Brotherhood President Mohamed Morsy removed from power and put on trial, hundreds of his supporters killed, and thousands more imprisoned. Over the past year, Hamas has been vilified in both official statements and public opinion, with its members banned from Egyptian soil, the Rafah border crossing between the two countries effectively shut, and hundreds of smuggling tunnels destroyed – blocking the supply of food, fuel, construction material and medicine along with weapons.  FULL POST

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Topics: Egypt • Israel • Middle East • Palestinian Authority
How should Israel respond to Hamas?
July 15th, 2014
09:11 AM ET

How should Israel respond to Hamas?

Fareed hears from Wall Street Journal columnist Bret Stephens and Council on Foreign Relations President Richard Haass about the latest flare-up in violence between Israel and the Palestinians.

Bret Stephens, The Wall Street Journal has an editorial that says the only solution here is to completely destroy Hamas, and The Journal advocates a land campaign, Israel to go back into Gaza with troops, which would inevitably mean there would be some kind of temporary occupation of Gaza.

Stephens: Well, not a full occupation of the Gaza Strip. But what I do think is right is that Israel has to occupy the territory that separates Gaza from Egypt, because what we've found now is that Hamas is firing much more sophisticated rockets into Israel, with ranges that are extending beyond Tel Aviv, up to Jerusalem, and Haifa. And that's unacceptable for any state to deal with that, whether these missiles are accurate and hitting their targets or not. And the problem you have had is that this is now the third time Israel has gone to war since it withdrew all of its settlements and all of it settlers from the Gaza Strip in 2005.

You have this pattern of recurring violence. I don't think, in the long run, that's a smart and acceptable strategy, to allow Hamas to remain in Gaza with a power base. Obviously, you can't eradicate it entirely, but you can eradicate it as an effective fighting force and as a political entity. And, by the way, one of the beneficiaries of that kind of action would be Fatah, would be Mahmoud Abbas, because what I think Hamas is trying to do, I think the strategy here is to gain the upper hand in intra-Palestinian politics by attempting to start a third intifada.

Is it a smart strategy to start a land campaign? It would cause a lot of international consternation, to say the least. FULL POST

Zakaria: Flare-up in Gaza violence will be hard to stop
July 8th, 2014
10:27 AM ET

Zakaria: Flare-up in Gaza violence will be hard to stop

CNN speaks with Fareed Zakaria about the escalating violence in Gaza following the kidnappings and killings of Israeli and Palestinian teenagers in the past few weeks. This is an edited version of the transcript.

The fact that the teenager who was beaten by the Israeli Police, an American citizen – how much could that, or should that, change the U.S. posture on this unfolding very serious, potentially very deadly situation in the Middle East?

It changes it a lot. As you know, the way in which the United States reacts varies very dramatically depending on whether the people involved – whether killed, wounded, hurt – are American citizens or not. Now this means that the American embassy has to be involved. It means the State Department has to be involved. It means that potentially congressmen might get involved, senators might get involved.

And in general, there’s going to be a heightened media scrutiny, inevitably. And all of that’s going to make an already raw situation even more difficult to handle.

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Topics: GPS Show • Israel • Middle East
Social media poisoning Middle East politics
July 3rd, 2014
01:54 PM ET

Social media poisoning Middle East politics

Watch "Fareed Zakaria GPS," Sundays at 10 a.m. and 1 p.m. ET on CNN

CNN speaks with Fareed Zakaria about the killing of three Israeli teens and a Palestinian youth, the role of social media in the Middle East, and the prospects for a peaceful resolution to the crisis. This is an edited version of the transcript.

The violence and the tension between Israelis and Palestinians is nothing new. When did it get to the point that killing innocent teenagers is part of this?

Unfortunately, there’s a long history of terrorism. Palestinians regarded it as a resistance to what they see as an illegitimate occupation. Of course, Israelis regarded it as terrorism. What I think is new here, which is very troubling, is that people are using the new tools of technology, social media, and you're beginning to see radical fringe elements that are able to organize, galvanize support. So what happens after the horrific murder of these three Israelis is you see Israeli right wing extremist groups go on Facebook and create sites that basically say, let's kill Arabs.

On the Arab side, on the Palestinian side, you've had similar kinds of incitement. It's as if we sometimes think that these technologies are somehow going to make everybody get along and cooperate. And instead what's happening is that it's creating a poison within the body politics of both sides, and it's going to be very difficult to walk this down because it's out there now.

Prime Minister Netanyahu has called for calm. Everyone on both sides is calling for calm on this. But can they keep a handle on this, especially when you talk about how now you have this social media element? FULL POST

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Topics: Iran • Iraq • Israel • Palestinian Authority • Technology
Note to U.S.: We're not children
May 1st, 2014
01:44 PM ET

Note to U.S.: We're not children

By Einat Wilf, Special to CNN

Editor’s note: Einat Wilf is an adjunct fellow with the Washington Institute and a senior fellow with the Jewish People Policy Institute and a former member of the Israeli Knesset. The views expressed are the writer’s own.

The April 29 deadline set by U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry for securing peace and a Palestinian state has passed. And so, after all the back and forth of threats and demands, and the Fatah-Hamas unity deal announced last week, what have we been left with? A couple stuck in a toxic – but for a number of years not an extremely bloody and violent – relationship; a surprisingly enthusiastic counselor who has insisted, against the protests of the couple, on dragging them into counseling; signs of the violence to come as tensions start to rise again between the couple; and a breakdown of the counseling accompanied by a rebuke by the counselor, who laments that he can’t want to fix the relationship more than the couple itself.

This is the story of the most recent round of failed Israeli-Palestinian negotiations. But while this latest push is interesting to dissect and discuss, it is secondary to the real issue, and the effort spent in the inevitable blame game following the breakdown of talks will prove pointless and futile. The fact is that the sides are miles apart. That is simply the way things are – and the two sides in this tug of war realize that better than anyone else.

The dispute between the Arabs and the Jews, between the Palestinians and the Israelis, and the story of the return of the Jewish people to their homeland, is unique and unparalleled in human history. The fact that the two sides are finding it difficult to reach a compromise and make the necessary “tough decisions,” to quote the U.S. president, should therefore come as no surprise.

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Why we must give Iran nuclear deal a chance
April 18th, 2014
05:08 PM ET

Why we must give Iran nuclear deal a chance

By Tyler Cullis and Jamal Abdi, Special to CNN

Editor’s note: Tyler Cullis is a policy associate at the National Iranian American Council. Jamal Abdi is policy director at NIAC. The views expressed are the authors’ own.

The United States could be on the verge of securing a historic agreement over Iran’s nuclear program, one that verifiably limits it and opens the door to further cooperation between the two countries. Yet with a diplomatic victory on the horizon, the rhetoric of those who have long opposed any diplomatic resolution is reaching dizzying heights of disingenuousness.

During a recent Senate hearing, Senate Foreign Relations Committee Chairman Robert Menendez (D-NJ) hit out at reports that negotiations with Iran may produce a deal that “only” extends Iran’s nuclear breakout timeline to 6 to 12 months.

“I don’t think we did everything that we’ve done to only get a six to twelve month lead time,” Menendez lamented as he grilled Secretary of State John Kerry over the progress of the talks.

Israeli Intelligence Minister Yuval Steinitz piled on shortly after, calling such a timeline a “[U.S.] surrender to Iran” and “unacceptable.”

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Topics: Iran • Israel • Nuclear • United States
April 16th, 2014
12:06 PM ET

Mayor: Jerusalem will never function as divided city

Watch "Fareed Zakaria GPS," Sundays at 10 a.m. and 1 p.m. ET on CNN

Fareed speaks with the mayor of Jerusalem, Nir Barkat, about the prospects for a peace plan that includes East Jerusalem as the Palestinian capital. Watch the video for more.

What are the solutions?

Well, I'll leave that to the national government. You can call Ramallah the center of the Palestinian people. They could bring their embassy to Jerusalem. They, today, have freedom of movement, freedom of religion. Today's Jerusalem is an open, international city. And, by the way, it's doing extremely well. Jerusalem, if you look at the trends in the city of Jerusalem, our economy has been growing 8 percent from year to year. Satisfaction of all residents – Muslims, Christians, the ultra-Orthodox, secular – is at a rise. Our crime rates are one tenth an average of any American city. When I fly to the States, I pray, because I know I'm 10 times more exposed to crime in the United States than I am back home in Jerusalem. And all of that – economy going north, crime rates going south, all of that – we must be doing something right.

And for you, the Arab neighborhoods of East Jerusalem, which is where the Palestinians would like to put their state, you think it would not be possible to have a Palestinian capital... FULL POST

April 8th, 2014
01:16 PM ET

Haass: Israeli-Palestinian peace process has become a local dispute

Watch "Fareed Zakaria GPS," Sundays at 10 a.m. and 1 p.m. ET on CNN

Fareed speaks with Richard Haass, president of the Council on Foreign Relations, about speculation that convicted spy Jonathan Pollard might be released from U.S. prison.

What do you think this, past week, the shenanigans have told us – maybe we're pardoning Jonathan Pollard, maybe we're not, the peace talks were going to fail, they were not going to fail? What's going on?

In the long run, it's irrelevant for the purposes of peace whether Mr. Pollard is in prison or not. It won't affect the basics. The real question, is the situation ripe? Are the leaders involved willing and able to make peace? I'm skeptical.

Let's just say for a second I'm wrong. So what? Right now, I think what we have to admit is that the Israeli-Palestinian peace process, while it's of importance to Israelis and Palestinians, it's become a local dispute. It won't affect the dynamics of the Middle East. It's not going to affect the trajectory of the civil war in Syria or what's going on in Egypt between the government and the Muslim Brotherhood or what's happening elsewhere.

This has become a local dispute, that, quite honestly, is not worthy of the time and attention the secretary of state and the United States are giving.

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Topics: GPS Show • Israel • Middle East
March 8th, 2014
08:37 PM ET

Israeli minister: Palestinians need to recognize Israel as Jewish state

Fareed speaks with Israel’s economics minister, Naftali Bennett, about the status of Arab Israelis. Watch the full interview this Sunday at 10 a.m. and 1 p.m. ET on CNN.

Prime Minister Netanyahu has talked about the importance of the Palestinians recognizing Israel as a Jewish state.  You've gone a bit further. You've said that it’s very important to strengthen exclusively the Jewish identity of Israel. What you do with the 20 percent of Arabs who live in Israel if they're not Jewish.

I'm a big supporter of full equal rights for the Arab Israelis. Twenty percent of Israelis are Arab.  They vote for the Knesset the same. They can be elected.  There are members of parliament, of the Knesset, that are Arab. And I support full equal rights for them.

As a nation-state, Israel is the Jewish nation-state.  So if we don't get that recognition from the Palestinians, essentially, they're saying give us our own state and now we want half of your state.  Well, it would be one and a half Palestinian states and only half a Jewish state.  And they're not willing to recognize that.

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Topics: GPS Show • Israel • Palestinian Authority
Should Israel unilaterally withdraw from the West Bank?
January 24th, 2014
02:25 PM ET

Should Israel unilaterally withdraw from the West Bank?

By Frida Ghitis, Special to CNN

Editor’s note: Frida Ghitis is a world affairs columnist for The Miami Herald and World Politics Review. A former CNN producer and correspondent, she is the author of "The End of Revolution: A Changing World in the Age of Live Television." Follow her on Twitter@FridaGhitis. The views expressed are her own.

What will happen if the current round of peace negotiations between Israelis and Palestinians ends in failure? If the two sides cannot come to an agreement is there another option for solving the conflict?

As the talks continue with scant visible evidence of progress, a few prominent Israelis have started reviving talk of a third way: unilateral withdrawal of Israel from most of the West Bank – even without a peace deal.

The notion that Israelis could voluntarily withdraw from territories claimed by Palestinians without securing an agreement is nothing new. In fact, the term “unilateral disengagement” was coined by the recently-deceased former Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon, who removed all Jewish settlers and military forces from Gaza in 2005. He ordered the withdrawal after saying he had concluded that peace with Palestinians was not possible, but that he also believed Israel should not rule over millions of Palestinians.

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Topics: Israel • Middle East
Time ripe to rid Middle East of chemical weapons
November 20th, 2013
09:29 AM ET

Time ripe to rid Middle East of chemical weapons

By Barry M. Blechman, Special to CNN

Editor’s note: Barry M. Blechman is a distinguished fellow at the Stimson Center, a nonprofit and nonpartisan international security think tank. The views expressed are his own.

The world will be a safer place if the surprising agreement that led to the promised destruction of Syria’s stockpile of deadly chemical weapons can pave the way for the banning of such weapons from the entire Middle East and eventually the world.

The next move is up to Israel and Egypt.

Syrian President Bashar al-Assad surprised the world in September when he agreed to sign the Chemical Weapons Convention barring the use of such weapons and to permit the supervised destruction of all his chemical weapon stocks. The move was designed to halt an expected U.S. bombing campaign against his country after al-Assad used chemical weapons against his own people in the Syrian civil war.

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Topics: Conflict • Egypt • Israel • Middle East • Syria
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