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To End Violence, Israel and Gaza Leave Negotiation Sticking Points for Later

November 21, 2012 at 12:00 AM EDT
The cease-fire agreement struck between Israel and Hamas after eight days of airstrikes and rocket fire was the first hurdle in opening up talks about larger issues like easing restrictions on the Gaza Strip. Jeffrey Brown talks to NPR's Leila Fadel and The Times of London's Sheera Frankel about the details of the truce.
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JEFFREY BROWN: A short time ago, I spoke to NPR’s Leila Fadel from Cairo.

Leila, welcome.

So, what’s known about what finally led to this cease-fire?     

LEILA FADEL, National Public Radio: Well, at this point, really the major sticking point that we were seeing last night was the issue of the blockade of the Gaza Strip. And, basically, what they did to get past that hurdle was delay the issue completely.

So even though we have a cessation of violence on both sides, they basically put off discussions of the easing of that blockade for 24 hours, until after 24 hours of the cease-fire, and then Israel has agreed to discuss easing the restrictions by — restrictions by land and sea into the Gaza Strip.

JEFFREY BROWN: Well, so that’s interesting. So, this really is a short-term — or short-term issues being dealt with now. And you’re saying they’re going to come back. And they are agreeing they are going to talk about longer-term things?

LEILA FADEL: Well, yes, basically, I think the way it’s being described to us is as a start and not an end.

This basically was a way to stop the violence. Gaza has been under intense bombardments for eight days, more than 140 people killed. Of course, Palestinian militants have been firing rockets into Israel.

So, this is a way to bring this to an end now.

And then once the cease-fire holds for 24 hours, they will talk about a much bigger issue, which is the blockade of the Gaza Strip, something that the Gazans have been living with for years now and Israel says is necessary to protect their land.

But the Palestinians say, this is starving us out, we need freedom of movement.

And so that’s the bigger — that’s really the bigger issue, and it’s only then that we will be able to see if this really is a deal that can hold.

JEFFREY BROWN: Now, what was the role of the Secretary Clinton or how is this being seen there? Is it an Egyptian-led agreement or one brokered by both Egypt and the U.S.?

LEILA FADEL: This is really being seen as an Egyptian-brokered deal.

I mean, the president here, President Mohammed Morsi, is the only person involved that is actually speaking to both sides because they have contact with Israelis through the security channels, which they have had for years.

And, also, they are in contact with Hamas, which the predecessor of Mohammed Morsi, Hosni Mubarak, wasn’t in touch with Hamas. In fact, they wouldn’t speak to them at all and often closed the Egyptian side to journalists and blocked that on the other side as well.

The difference now is that Morsi was able to speak to both Hamas and to Israel and actually mediate the deal. That’s really never been possible before. Of course, without American influence, this would never have come to pass. They are — in speaking to Egyptian officials and speaking to Palestinian officials, everybody here said, we really need the Americans to lean on Israel. And only when Hillary Clinton came to the region did a deal come to fruition.

JEFFREY BROWN: And, finally, just even in the next day or days, is it clear how this is enforced? It didn’t seem to be in any language, other than sort of leaving it to each side to enforce the deal.

LEILA FADEL: Right. It’s been very simple.

Hamas has agreed to control all Palestinians’ actions. Nobody will fire into Israel. Israel has agreed to stop the bombardment. At 9:00 p.m., things went quiet. Now, Israel — the Israeli prime minister, Benjamin Netanyahu, did warn and say, we’re ready to ramp it up again if there’s one breaking of that cease-fire.

So, basically, the idea, is it is an honor agreement. Each side will stop.

JEFFREY BROWN: All right, Leila Fadel of NPR in Cairo, thanks so much.

LEILA FADEL: Thanks.

JEFFREY BROWN: Shortly after that conversation, I talked to Sheera Frenkel of The Times of London. She’s in Tel Aviv.

Sheera Frenkel, welcome.

What are you hearing from Israeli officials you’re talking to? Did they get what they wanted and do they think this will hold?

SHEERA FRENKEL, The Times of London: The Israeli leadership is definitely trying to portray at this point a feeling of success to the Israeli public.

We have heard from spokespeople from Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, from Defense Minister Ehud Barak that they have achieved a lot of theirs goals, that being a cease-fire agreement with Hamas in which they promised not to continuing fire rockets from the Gaza Strip into Israel.

They also — on a military level, they also say that they have managed to take out a lot of Hamas’ long-range rockets. That’s something that at the very beginning of this military operation, Israeli officials promised the public here.

JEFFREY BROWN: Now, in the meantime today, there was the bombing in Tel Aviv. How much is known at this point about who did it and how they were able to do it?

SHEERA FRENKEL: We have heard a lot of different groups take responsibility at this point. And we don’t know yet who is responsible.

Israeli officials say that they’re still looking for the person behind it. They have had a couple of suspects that have been apprehended, but no one has actually been named as the perpetrator of that attack.

What we do know — and that’s from Israeli police — is that they came from the West Bank and at about two minutes past 12:00 here, which was just at the time where most people were taking their lunch break, they threw a bag on to a bus that was traveling inside the city of Tel Aviv.

A few minutes after that, the bag exploded, causing injuries to people on the bus there.

JEFFREY BROWN: Let me ask you about Gaza because I know you’re also talking to sources in Gaza today. How are they seeing this agreement? What are they saying about it and its prospects?

SHEERA FRENKEL: We’re seeing a lot of celebration in Gaza. I just got off the phone with a friend of mine in GazaCity. He said that it’s odd. For the last few nights, he hasn’t able to sleep because of rocket fire, and tonight he can’t sleep because of the celebratory gunfire and fireworks all across the Gaza Strip.

He says that there’s a real sense of victory and achievement there. For some Palestinians, that’s because they managed to hit cities in central Israel like Tel Aviv and Jerusalem.

For others, it’s more the recognition from the Arab world. In the last week, we have seen pretty much a diplomatic whirlwind for Hamas. They have had visits from countries in the Arab world. They have had a visit from Arab delegations.

Their standing in the Arab world has really risen in the last week, and I think that a lot of people inside Gaza and across this region are going to be looking at this as a real sort of achievement for Hamas.

JEFFREY BROWN: And finally, Sheera, we have heard earlier in the program that many of the important longer-term issues here, the blockade of Gaza and other things, were put on hold, basically, that it will be taken up later.

What have you been hearing on both sides about the prospects for addressing those kinds of issues?

SHEERA FRENKEL: What we have understood from Israeli officials that this cease-fire agreement is actually in two stages. The first is just the cessation of violence.

It’s only in the later stages, which probably are not going to start for the next 24 hours, at the earliest, that the two parties are going to begin negotiating other things. Along the list of things that we were — items we were provided earlier today was changing the buffer zone around the Gaza Strip, easing the blockade of Gaza, reestablishing the Rafah crossing between Gaza and Egypt, so that Hamas and the people of the Gaza Strip can have sort of normalized trade relations, the stopping of rearming of militant groups in Gaza.

There are a long list of items that both sides want to see addressed. But that’s not going to happen for quite some time.

Part of the issue that I think both the Israelis and Palestinians have had with the cease-fire agreement is that they feel that those issues should have been addressed before the cease-fire was established.

Today, in southern Israel, there were protests in cities like Sderot and Beer Sheva that have come under fire. And people in those cities really seem to object mainly to the fact that Israel had not established and sort of hammered out the terms of that agreement before agreeing to the cease-fire.

JEFFREY BROWN: All right, Sheera Frenkel in Tel Aviv, thank you very much.

SHEERA FRENKEL: Thank you.