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Would alleviating Gaza humanitarian concerns ease violence?

U.S. officials are blaming Hamas for the deadly violence on the Gaza border. Daniel Shapiro, former U.S. ambassador to Israel, says the group has long squandered its resources in trying to attack Israel, leading to "horrific" humanitarian concerns in Gaza. Shapiro joins Nick Schifrin to discuss whether the clashes could fray alliances, and the decision to move the U.S. Embassy to Jerusalem.

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  • Nick Schifrin:

    With me now is Daniel Shapiro, who served as U.S. ambassador to Israel under President Obama from 2011 to 2017.

    Ambassador Shapiro, thank you very much for being on the "NewsHour."

    We have heard from U.S. officials today and yesterday, really blaming Hamas, and only Hamas, for the violence inside of Gaza.

    But as we heard from Jane Ferguson's story right now, isn't is there genuine frustration at Israeli actions inside Gaza and conditions inside Gaza as well?

  • Daniel Shapiro:

    Well, there's no question conditions inside Gaza are horrific, and people there are really suffering in a very genuine well — a very genuine way.

    I have to say, I think the lion's share of the responsibility for this immediate crisis does fall on Hamas' shoulders. They are a terrorist organization, and they have intentionally embedded themselves within a civilian population in these instances, in which there are both violent acts aimed at the fence, things being lobbed and shot over the fence, and unarmed protesters, all in one large chaotic area.

    Hamas has squandered a lot of resources over the years on building rockets to attack Israel with, which Israel can now counter with missile defense systems. They have spent a lot of money on digging tunnels to attack Israel under the border. Israel now has technology to detect and destroy those tunnels.

    All that they really have left to try to assert their relevance and try to push back against those humanitarian conditions is to throw their own people into harm's way in this very chaotic situation where there are both violent and nonviolent events happening at the same time.

  • Nick Schifrin:

    Should Israel and the international community, though, try and do its best to alleviate some of the humanitarian concerns inside of Gaza as a way to reduce that violence?

  • Daniel Shapiro:

    The humanitarian situation in Gaza does need to be addressed.

    I would say, in the first instance, the United States and Egypt should work together on an initiative to get the current violence to de-escalate by getting Hamas to put some more controls in, end these protests and these violent events at the fence, and get Israel to try to stand down its rules of engagement, and then to work with the international community to fund a significant humanitarian effort to bring in the humanitarian aid, the consumer goods, and the infrastructure repair to Gaza's very badly damaged water and power infrastructure, which is part of what's making people in Gaza feel like they are so desperate.

  • Nick Schifrin:

    We saw this scene of dissonance yesterday.

    And I will show viewers the split-screen. At the same time we saw this violence in Gaza, we also saw the opening in Jerusalem. You have been in favor of the embassy opening in Jerusalem, but doesn't the embassy opening contribute to some of the tension, contribute to some of the violence?

  • Daniel Shapiro:

    It was certainly jarring to watch those scenes juxtaposed against one another.

    I do think it's appropriate that the embassy be in Jerusalem. Jerusalem has always been Israel's capital. And the embassy is housed in West Jerusalem, which is really not controversial. Israel will always maintain control of that territory, even in a two-state solution.

    I think the administration made two very important mistakes, however. One was, in announcing the recognition of Jerusalem as Israel's capital and the intention to move the embassy, they didn't frame that decision within the broader context of our strategic objective, which is not where the embassy sits. It's a two-state solution.

    It's a situation where Palestinians can also achieve their aspirations for a capital in East Jerusalem. It would have to be negotiated. The precise borders are not knowable yet.

    But to make clear that we see all of these happening as part of a package would certainly have made it easier for the Palestinians to absorb a decision that they didn't care for.

    The other mistake they made was the choice of the date. May 14, yesterday, is the secular calendar anniversary of Israel's founding, and 70 years ago, President Truman recognized Israel when its independence was declared.

    But also the day that Palestinians commemorate as the Nakba, the day they lost everything because of the establishment of Israel and their displacement from their land. Today or tomorrow is the beginning of Ramadan. So this event at the embassy yesterday could easily have been scheduled two weeks ago or two weeks from now, and separated from some of the most emotional days on the Palestinian calendar.

  • Nick Schifrin:

    Ambassador, you mentioned the strategic situation. I wanted to zoom out quickly just a little bit more.

    Does the embassy opening, does the violence in Gaza, the deaths, does that challenge the alliance that's building between Israel and Saudi Arabia and the Sunni states? And does it also fray the U.S.-European alliance? The Europeans, of course, came out against this embassy move.

  • Daniel Shapiro:

    There's a lot of things fraying the U.S.-European alliance these days, President Trump's withdrawal from the Iran nuclear dealer first and foremost, a number of trade disputes, now the sense that European views, let's say, on how to address Israeli-Palestinian matters are being not taken into account.

    So there are many things causing those tensions. As for the Sunni states, like Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates, they have made clear that, while they care about the Palestinians, it's not the highest issue on their priority.

    The highest issue on their priority is Iran and other extremist organizations, ISIS and al-Qaida. And they view Israel as a strategic partner against those enemies, because Israel also faces them. And they are part a United States-led camp that can make common cause on those common security challenges.

    Unfortunately, when the Palestinian issue descends into violence and chaos and despair, and it doesn't look like there's any pathway to achieve that two-stay solution, which is the only possible resolution to the conflict, it makes it much harder for Israel and those Arab states to make common cause, to bring their quiet security cooperation out into the open and do the kind of normalization that would really benefit everybody, Israelis, Arabs, and Palestinians.

  • Nick Schifrin:

    Daniel Shapiro, former U.S. ambassador to Israel, thank you very much.

  • Daniel Shapiro:

    Thank you.

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