What Does A Path Forward Look Like For Israel And Palestinians?

Originally published on May 14, 2021 7:26 pm

Overnight, violence in the Gaza Strip and Israel accelerated to the brink of all-out war.

Israel deployed artillery and warplanes to attack the tunnel systems of Hamas. The Palestinian Health Ministry reports at least 126 dead.

That dramatic escalation was a response to around 2,000 rockets fired by Gaza militants into Israel, killing at least 11 Palestinians.

The international community is mobilizing to de-escalate this violence — or at least the latest surge of it.

The U.S. is sending Hady Amr, the deputy assistant secretary of state for Israel and Palestinian affairs, to meet with leaders from both sides. The Biden administration is also speaking to other regional diplomats who may have some sway.

But just what is the diplomatic path toward some sort of peace? Israeli political analyst and journalist Akiva Eldar, a contributor to Israeli newspaper Haaretz, and Mkhaimar Abusada, a professor of political science at Al-Azhar University in Gaza spoke to NPR's All Things Considered about what life on the ground is like for each of them, key players who may be able to de-escalate the situation and the role of Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu.

This interview has been edited for length and clarity.


Audie Cornish: What are things like right now where you are?

Mkhaimar Abusada: The situation here in Gaza is that Gaza is under fire, under attack, for the past five days. We have been under intense Israeli bombardment on different areas of the Gaza Strip. Last night was the worst in terms of the intensity of the bombing. In the north side of [the] Gaza strip, around two areas called Beit Lahia and Beit Hanoun. I have my mother, who lives in Beit Lahia, and some of my brothers. Last night they were screaming all night long; it was very horrific for them. And as a matter of fact, my mother and one of my brothers evacuated their home in Beit Lahia and moved into Gaza City, where I live right now. They were very much afraid that Israel will bomb the area again tonight.

Akiva Eldar, I don't know where you are. Can you talk about what you're seeing?

Akiva Eldar: Well compared to my friend, Professor Abusada, we are safe. I live in Netanya, which is 25 kilometers north of Tel Aviv. But we had a couple of alarms here. You know, I'm really embarrassed because I know I look at what's happening in Gaza and compared to them, it's paradise.

Professor Abusada, I want to talk about the players involved who might be able to contribute to de-escalation. Is that wishful thinking? What is possible at this moment?

Abusada: There is no one who is going to win out of this current escalation. Both Palestinians and Israelis are big losers out of the current escalations. We see dead people on both sides; we see carnage and destruction on both sides, probably more in Gaza because of the intensity of the Israeli bombing, as I just mentioned. And we do hope there is an immediate ceasefire that will be in effect anytime soon. Today, the deputy assistant to the U.S. secretary of state, Hady Amr, who is responsible for the Palestinian-Israeli unit in the U.S. State Department, has arrived in Israel. Now supposedly, he will try to negotiate a ceasefire agreement between the Palestinians and Israel. Whether he succeeds or not, it will be seen — even though that we know that the U.S. is very supportive of Israel and the U.S. is not an honest broker in this Palestinian-Israeli conflict. But we still hope that the current U.S. administration led by President Joe Biden will be at least semi-neutral to the Palestinian-Israel conflict, unlike the previous U.S. administration led by President Donald Trump who was very biased towards Israel in many ways.

As you say, a U.S. representative is coming. Who is coming to meet them? Who can represent the interest of Palestinians in this moment that would actually lead to de-escalation?

Abusada: Still, Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas is the chairman of the PLO [Palestinian Liberation Organization] which recognized Israel. But at the end of the day, the fighting is going on in Gaza. ... Hamas is in control of Gaza. But Hamas has [a] very good relationship with the Qataris, with the Turks, with the Egyptians. The U.S. still classifies Hamas as a terrorist organization, which would mean that Hady Amr would not be able to talk directly to Hamas.

Akiva, I want to come to you because obviously, the last peace negotiations collapsed — I think this was back in April 2014 — under then-Secretary of State John Kerry. How different are things now, especially since Netanyahu, the prime minister, has really been struggling to maintain his power in recent months?

Eldar: You touched the bottom line of this event: This [is] the future of Prime Minister Netanyahu. I believe that we can reach, now, true ceasefire because Netanyahu got what he wanted, and what he wanted is to destroy the possibility [of peace] and to put an end to this tangle between the right, left and center in Israel.

What are you going to be listening for over the next couple of days that will give you a sense of where this is headed?

Eldar: What I will be following closely is whether the international community, the U.S., is going to deal with this cancer ... I don't see any way where the Israelis and Hamas can reach an agreement as long as the Israeli government is held by the Israeli right-wing parties who don't believe in a two-state solution and in Gaza, what the Hamas managed to do is to unite the Palestinian communities in Gaza, the West Bank, East Jerusalem and Israel proper. And this is not going away if we don't deal with it in the roots of this seriously.

Abusada: Let me just interrupt here and say let's agree on one thing here, that the continuation of the Israeli occupation of [the] West Bank, Gaza and East Jerusalem — which has been going on for more than half a century now, since 1967 — and the creeping annexation with settlement expansion on Palestinian territory is the source of the problem. Let's agree that if Israel puts an end to its occupation of Palestinian land and accept international law and UN security council resolution 242 and 338, there is a good possibility for peace. There is a good possibility for security and peace for both Palestinians and Israelis.

Eldar: I fully agree with you, my friend.

Copyright 2021 NPR. To see more, visit https://www.npr.org.

AUDIE CORNISH, HOST:

Overnight, violence in the Gaza Strip and Israel accelerated to the brink of an all-out war. Israel deployed artillery and warplanes to attack the tunnel systems of Hamas. The Palestinian Health Ministry reports at least 122 dead. That dramatic escalation was a response to around 2,000 rockets fired by Gaza militants into Israel. At least eight people are dead from that fire.

AILSA CHANG, HOST:

The international community is mobilizing to deescalate this violence, or at least the latest surge of it. The U.S. is sending Hady Amr, the deputy assistant secretary of state for Israel and Palestinian affairs, to meet with leaders from both sides. The Biden administration is also speaking to other regional diplomats who may have some sway.

CORNISH: But just what is the diplomatic path toward some sort of peace? A question we put to Israeli political analyst and journalist Akiva Eldar, a contributor to Haaretz, and to Mkhaimar Abusada, a professor of political science at Al-Azhar University in Gaza. We first asked each of them what the situation was like where they are.

MKHAIMAR ABUSADA: The situation here in Gaza is that Gaza is under fire, under attack for the past five days. We have been under intense Israeli bombardment on different areas of the Gaza Strip. Last night was the worst in terms of the intensity of the bombing in the north side of Gaza Strip around the two areas called Beit Lahia and Beit Hanoun. I have my mother who live in Beit Lahia and some of my brothers. They - last night, they were screaming all night long. It was very horrific for them. And as a matter of fact, my mother and one of my brothers evacuated their home in Beit Lahia and moved into Gaza City, where I live right now. They were very much afraid that Israel will bomb the area again tonight.

CORNISH: Akiva Eldar, I don't know where you are. Can you talk about what you're seeing?

AKIVA ELDAR: Well, compared to my friend, professor Abusada, we are safe. I live in Netanya, which is 25 kilometers north of Tel Aviv. But we had a couple of alarms here. You know, I'm really embarrassed because I know - I look at what's happening in Gaza, and compared to them, it's paradise.

CORNISH: Professor Abusada, I want to talk about the players involved who might be able to contribute to de-escalation. Is that wishful thinking? What is possible at this moment?

ABUSADA: Well, Audie, look; there is no one who is going to win out of this current escalation. Both Palestinians and Israelis are big losers out of the current escalations. We see dead people on both sides. We see carnage and destruction on both sides, probably more in Gaza because of the intensity of the Israeli bombing, as I just mentioned. And we do hope that there is an immediate cease-fire that will be affect any time soon.

Today, the deputy assistant to the U.S. secretary of state, Hady Amr, who is responsible for the Palestinian-Israeli unit in the U.S. State Department, has arrived in Israel. And supposedly he will try to negotiate a cease-fire agreement between the Palestinians and Israel. Whether he succeeds or not, it will be seen, even though that we know that the U.S. is very supportive of Israel and the U.S. is not an honest broker in this Palestinian-Israeli conflict. But we still hope that this current U.S. administration led by President Biden will be at least semi-neutral to the Palestinian-Israeli conflict, unlike the previous U.S. administration led by President Donald Trump, who was very biased toward Israel in many ways.

CORNISH: As you say, a U.S. representative is coming. Who is coming to meet them, and who can represent the interests of Palestinians in this moment that would actually lead to de-escalation?

ABUSADA: Well, still, Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas is the chairman of the PLO, which recognized Israel. But at the end of the day, the fighting is going on in Gaza, and...

CORNISH: With Hamas, right? So that...

ABUSADA: Yes. Hamas is in control of Gaza. But Hamas has a very good relationship with the Qataris, with the Turks, with the Egyptians. The U.S. still classify Hamas as a terrorist organization, which would mean that Hady Amr will not be able to talk directly to Hamas.

CORNISH: Akiva, I want to come to you because obviously the last peace negotiations collapsed - I think this was back in April 2014, in fact - under then Secretary of State John Kerry. How different are things now, especially since Netanyahu, the prime minister, has really been struggling to maintain his power in recent months?

ELDAR: You touched the bottom line of this event, and this is the future of Prime Minister Netanyahu. I believe that we can reach no truce or cease-fire because Netanyahu got what he wanted, and what he wanted is to destroy the possibility and to put an end to this tango between the right, left and center in Israel. And...

CORNISH: And for context for people, he was supposed to form a coalition government, has struggled to do so and is facing corruption charges.

ELDAR: Right. I think that it was very clear to us that Netanyahu wanted to achieve two things. One is to avoid going to jail, which was very imminent. No. 2 is his strategy was to support Hamas as long as he can stop the peace process.

CORNISH: Akiva Eldar, my final question is, what are you going to be listening for over the next couple of days that will give you a sense of where this is headed?

ELDAR: What I will be following closely is whether the international community, the U.S., is going to deal with this cancer, and not with using aspirin (ph). I don't see any way where the Israelis and Hamas can reach an agreement as long as the Israeli government is held by the Israeli right-wing parties who don't believe in a two-state solution. And in Gaza, what the Hamas managed to do is to unite the Palestinian communities in Gaza, the West Bank, East Jerusalem and Israel proper. And this is not going away if we don't deal with it in the roots of this seriously.

ABUSADA: Akiva, can - let me just interrupt here and say let's agree on one thing here, that the continuation of the Israeli occupation of West Bank, Gaza and East Jerusalem, which has been going on for more than half a century now, since 1967, and the creeping annexation with settlement expansion on Palestinian territory is the source of the problem. Let's agree that if Israel puts an end to its occupation of Palestinian land and accept international law and U.N. Security Council Resolutions 242 and 338, there is a good possibility for peace. There's a good possibility for security and peace for both Palestinians and Israelis.

ELDAR: I fully agree with you, my friend.

CORNISH: That's Israeli political analyst and journalist Akiva Eldar and Mkhaimar Abusada, professor of political science at Al-Azhar University in Gaza.

(SOUNDBITE OF CITY OF THE SUN'S "VENTURA") Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.