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Why Hamas rejected an Egyptian-proposed ceasefire

July 15, 2014 at 6:29 PM EDT
Hamas continued to fire rockets into Israel Tuesday, refusing Egypt’s proposal for a ceasefire. Chief foreign affairs correspondent Margaret Warner talks to writer Mark Perry about what it will take for Hamas to accept a ceasefire, the group’s growing popularity among Palestinians and if Egypt’s proposal still has potential.

MARGARET WARNER: Mark Perry is a writer and foreign policy analyst who’s covered the Israeli-Palestinian conflict for over two decades. In 2005, he led an effort to introduce retired senior U.S. officials to Hamas leaders, and has remained in touch with them ever since. I spoke with him today.

Mark Perry, thank you for joining us.

Can you explain why Hamas, at least this morning, apparently, refused to accept this Egyptian cease-fire proposal?

MARK PERRY, Writer: They didn’t get what they wanted. Hamas needs something tangible to show to its people that it has won from Israel as a concession.

Just an end to the fighting is not enough.

MARGARET WARNER: But they do want something for it, as opposed to not being interested in a cease-fire at all?

MARK PERRY: What they want and what they have always wanted, over a period of many years, since 2004 and through two wars now, they have wanted an end to the siege of Gaza.

And that shows international respect and respect of Israel a concession that they really need to get their economy going, they need an opening to the Rafah border crossing.

MARGARET WARNER: That’s into Egypt.

MARK PERRY: Into Egypt.

And without these, we are going to have this all over again. They want a final resolution of this problem. And they want their people to be able to grow economically.

MARGARET WARNER: Aren’t they also totally isolated now? I mean, even the Arab League was behind this cease-fire proposal.

MARK PERRY: They are isolated, but they have always been isolated for a long time. And they have always gotten stronger.

People have said, well, the people of Gaza have turned against them. But the one thing that always makes Palestinians support a Palestinian movement is when it’s attacked by Israel. That is the common ground that they have. We are seeing that again. Hamas’ popularity in Gaza has been growing the more that Israel bombs Gaza.

MARGARET WARNER: Do you think they gain from this current conflict, even though Palestinians are being killed, now close to 200?

MARK PERRY: I think they believe that they gain politically, but there is also a limit.

They can’t take a pounding forever, and they know that. And it is going to be very interesting to see how both sides, Hamas and Israel, and the international community, in addition, calibrate what the point is, how — whether Hamas can stay — can prevail in this kind of conflict.

MARGARET WARNER: The Israelis charge that in fact Hamas is responsible for these Palestinian deaths in that they deliberately put rocket launchers in places where people live and so essentially they’re making their own civilians targets.

What does Hamas say to that, at least privately?

MARK PERRY: Hamas privately and publicly says, we’re outgunned, we are outmanned. We have a right to protect ourselves. We put rockets in built-up areas, but that’s been the case throughout all wars in human history.

I don’t think it’s accurate at all that to say Hamas uses Palestinians as human shields. You could make the same claim about Israel. All of its major military installations are in urban areas. No one seems to care.

MARGARET WARNER: Will there come a point at which Hamas or Islamic Jihad, the militants who are sending these rockets over, actually run out of rockets?

MARK PERRY: Oh, sure, but we’re not anywhere near that point.

I think the last operation two years ago, Hamas was in deep trouble. They were about 24 hours away from running out of ammunition.

MARGARET WARNER: This was in 2012.

MARK PERRY: In 2012. And they really didn’t want Israel to come in on the ground. They were going to be in trouble if that happened.

In this case, that is not true. I was talking to Osama Hamdan, the head of the international relations department, three days ago and I said, how are you guys doing? He said, we’re fine.

And that has been Hamas’ message to the international community ever since. In the three days since, they have said, Israel wants to come in, they can come in, let’s do this. But we have our principles we’re going to stick to.

The standard theme of these conflicts that we hear in the United States and in Europe is that Hamas is weakened by these attacks, that it becomes increasingly isolated. But that’s never been the case. In fact, over the last six years, I would argue that the opposite is the case, that it’s Israel that’s become isolated, especially in Europe.

MARGARET WARNER: Does Hamas take seriously the threat of an Israeli ground invasion?

MARK PERRY: Very much so. And I think that they worry about it.

And I think that they don’t want it. But they cannot be seen to be compromising with their principles. Lift the siege in Gaza. Open the Rafah crossing and release those Palestinians who have been detained after Israel pledged that they wouldn’t be arrested.

If those conditions are met — and they’re easy to meet — then Hamas will say, fine, we will have a cease-fire and we can go forward and build a relationship on the basis of the cease-fire. But without those principles being maintained and upheld, I think that they are in this for the long haul.

MARGARET WARNER: But now you have got a government in Egypt that doesn’t really want to open these crossings. You have got a government in Egypt that is hostile to Hamas. What are the prospects that in fact Egypt would even want to do that?

MARK PERRY: Well, you’re right. This government in Egypt, the government of General Sisi, is hostile to Hamas.

But General Sisi has to listen to his street. And what we have seen over the last 24 to 48 hours is that the Egyptian press and the Egyptian people are turning again towards the Palestinians and support of Hamas and Sisi has to be aware of this.

You are not going to see demonstrations in downtown Cairo in favor Israel. You’re going to see demonstrations in downtown Cairo in favor of Hamas and the Palestinians. And Sisi knows he has to placate that part of country.

MARGARET WARNER: So, when Secretary Kerry said today in Vienna that he wanted to give the Egyptian plan more time to work before the U.S. tried to step in, do you think this plan still has another chapter, that it still has legs, or is it dead?

MARK PERRY: Well, we don’t really know what the Egyptian plan is.

But I trust Secretary Kerry’s intuitions on this. The plan has to be built on. We need to give it a chance to work. Let’s see if it works. Maybe it can be added to. He has said he doesn’t need to go to Cairo, that this can be in the hand of the Egyptians. They have done this before.

They have mediated between Israel and the Palestinians and Hamas very successfully. Certainly, they’re capable of doing it again. I think we’re at the beginning of a process on the cease-fire, not the end of it. And if we give it a few more days, maybe something substantive can come out of it. I think Kerry is right on this.

MARGARET WARNER: Mark Perry, thank you.

MARK PERRY: My pleasure.

GWEN IFILL: That interview is part of a series of conversations Margaret is having about the Israeli-Hamas conflict. Yesterday, she spoke to former U.S. envoy for Israeli Palestinian negotiations Martin Indyk. Tomorrow, she will speak with Israeli Ambassador Ron Dermer.