The Israeli military carried out airstrikes Thursday in the Gaza Strip, bombing what it said was a military compound and a weapons production facility run by Hamas. Israel said the strikes were in response to machine gun fire from the Palestinian territory.
That follows Monday’s bloodshed on the Gaza border, when Israeli soldiers opened fire on Palestinian protesters, killing 60 and hospitalizing more than 1,700 in the area’s worst day of violence since the 2014 Gaza War.
Here & Now‘s Jeremy Hobson speaks with journalist Neri Zilber (@NeriZilber) and Ghaith al-Omari (@GhAlOmari), a former Palestinian peace negotiator. They are both fellows at The Washington Institute for Near East Policy.
On whether it was an appropriate response for Israel and the U.S. to blame Hamas for this week’s violence
Ghaith al-Omari: “Look, like everything that relates to the Palestinian-Israeli conflict, views are polarized, and everyone uses the events to score political points. The reality is more complex. Among the protesters who were killed, many were Hamas members, but many were civilians. There were cases that Israel was justified to use fire [or] cases were quite questionable. And so in that sense it’s a complicated reality. The question right now, rather than trading blame, is how do you move forward in a way that ensures that something like this does not happen again.”
Neri Zilber: “Yeah, I mean, Ghaith is absolutely correct. It’s a complicated issue in general, especially given the events of the last few weeks with these marches from Gaza onto the border fence with Israel. It’s a mixture of, like they said, unarmed civilians, really. And we’ve seen journalists, as well as women, as well as teenagers hit by live Israeli fire. But also the Israelis are correct when they say that there are militants inside these crowds trying to foment trouble — Molotov cocktails, IEDs and live fire — against Israeli troops on the other side. So it is quite complicated.
“I think the larger context is that Gaza itself now has been under Hamas rule for now 11 years. The territory, the conditions of the territory, in terms of water, electricity, medicine and the like, as well as unemployment, have never been worse. And we really all of us need to hopefully find a better way forward.”
On if the U.S. can continue to be an honest broker in this conflict after the embassy move
GO: “The question of honest broker is one that is very, how shall I say it, elastic words. The reality is the U.S. is the only available broker, not because it’s honest or dishonest, it’s because the U.S. is the only one that has the power, the resources, the diplomatic wherewithal to do it. But in the short term, the Palestinians and many of the Arabs are so frustrated and angry with the Jerusalem move that in the short term the U.S. cannot play that role. But in the medium and long term there is no alternative but for the U.S. leading such a process.”
On a two-state solution
GO: “Again, there is no other solution. You have two national movements: Zionism, or the Jewish nationalism that requires a state of its own, a Jewish state, Israel, and Palestinian nationalism that requires a state of its own. Right now there is no possibility for this solution because the politics on both sides is so complicated. In the longer term though, there is no other solution because none of the two nations will be satisfied with living on a state that is not their own.”
NZ: “I do [agree with that]. As far as the U.S. role here, we’ve discussed it on this program a few months ago. But as far as the whole decision taken to move the U.S. Embassy from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem — when it was announced, how it was announced and then ultimately what we saw this past week — was an unforced error in the sense that the U.S. didn’t need to hold the ceremony this week of all weeks. This week marked the 70th anniversary of Israel’s independence as far as the Gregorian calendar, and then also the Palestinian Nakba day, the day of catastrophe. So the U.S. officials should have seen this coming and could have picked any other week of the year really to hold this event, so obviously it doesn’t help their standing regionally and especially because of the Palestinian Authority.”
On whether the Israelis are prepared to relax the border controls on Gaza
NZ: “Well I think it’s important to remember that Israel is one party in this very complicated situation. So as I’ve mentioned, the Palestinian Authority under Mahmoud Abbas also has a role to play. Egypt, there’s a border crossing between Gaza and Egypt, that’s been for the most part closed over the past few years. So Egypt has a role to play. And then of course Israel. The rub is that none of these parties that I just mentioned really want to relent in the face of a territory controlled by a terrorist organization. So we’ll also need to see some flexibility as it were from the rulers in Gaza from Hamas. So ideally all of these parties could come together and, at least in the short term, come to some kind of arrangement that will ease the situation for the civilians, for the people of Gaza. That’s the hope.”
On if Israel and Iran will go to war
GO: “Of course I’m worried about such a war. There is an escalation. Iran has been for the last few years, and certainly since the [Iran nuclear agreement] was signed, has been acting in a very aggressive way throughout the region. We see it in Yemen. We see it in Bahrain. We see it in Iraq and Syria. And for Israel, Iran is coming very close to the Israeli border. Recently Iran has sent a drone into Israeli airspace. So they are very worried, and they are responding, and they’re not the only ones. The Jordanians are very worried of having Iran along their borders. The Gulf states are doing this. So the situation is getting tense, and I think it’s very important for Iran right now to recalibrate and to re-examine whether or not Iran wants to continue its aggressive regional posture.”
NZ: “Look, a full-scale war I don’t think is in the cards. Israel is still the most powerful military force in the region. But you know, miscalculation and escalation are always a possibility in this part of the world. What’s more likely is that we’ll see this kind of tit-for-tat, back and forth — Israel bombs Iranian assets in Syria, and then at some point Iran and its allies and proxies in the immediate neighborhood will probably respond. But that can also, I imagine, be contained, although it will be a bit more difficult. So a war is always likely, but I don’t think a given.”