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Israel-Hamas Ceasefire To Begin Today

Aired November 21, 2012 - 12:30   ET



UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: (INAUDIBLE) The ceasefire is set to start at 9:00 p.m., Cairo time, today, Wednesday, 21st of November, 2012 (INAUDIBLE) the Palestinian cause (INAUDIBLE) to achieve a comprehensive and just resolution.

The government of Egypt will continue its efforts to achieve this noble objective (INAUDIBLE) Palestinian factions and assistance in achieving (INAUDIBLE) on the basis of Palestinian values and interests.

Egypt appreciates the role of the Arab League (INAUDIBLE) Turkey and Qatar and those of the Secretary-General of the United Nations.

(INAUDIBLE) Egypt to end the violence.

At the same time, it is upon the international community to be engaged in monitoring the ...


MICHAEL HOLMES, CNN ANCHOR: All right. We've been listening there to Mohamed Kamel, the foreign minister, the Egyptian foreign minister there, making what we had expected to come up and that is a ceasefire announcement 9:00 p.m., Cairo time. That is, as we were discussing, about 90 minutes.

SUZANNE MALVEAUX, CNN ANCHOR: Ninety minutes away or so. They say they're going to be releasing some statements, as well.

Let's listen in to Secretary of State Hillary Clinton who is speaking now.


HILLARY CLINTON, SECRETARY OF STATE: ... his personal leadership to deescalate the situation in Gaza and end the violence.

This is a critical moment for the region. Egypt's new government is assuming the responsibility and leadership that has long made this country a cornerstone of regional stability and peace.

The United States welcomes (INAUDIBLE) all the rocket attacks must end (INAUDIBLE) ... The people of this region deserve the chance to (INAUDIBLE) ...

Now, we have to focus on reaching (INAUDIBLE) ...


HOLMES: Obviously, we've got an Arabic translation of what Hillary Clinton is saying there and every time she speaks, we're getting that. She did thank the Egyptian president for his mediation efforts in what we've seen so far. And, of course, the main news here, the headline here, is that the ceasefire will take effect at 9:00 p.m., Cairo time.

Suzanne, that's a little under 90 minutes from now.

MALVEAUX: Ninety minutes away.

One of the things that struck me was the fact that she said that it was going to be Egypt and its leadership that was going to be taking the main role in brokering this peace effort, this truce, if you will.

Give us a sense, Michael, because you and I were talking about this. This is very different than a deal or a truce. This is simply a ceasefire.

This is something we heard 24 hours ago, the possibility of just the violence stopping, and one of the things that we noticed here is that the violence did not stop and, if Hamas agrees and says, OK, no more rockets, no more attacks, you still have organizations like the ones we saw before with this bomb, this bus bomb.

People don't have control over these other groups that might actually disrupt the ceasefire ...


MALVEAUX: ... even if these two sides agree.

HOLMES: Well, the difference here, of course, is this is a more formal announcement that there is going to be a ceasefire. It sounds like both sides have signed off on it and it's going to take effect.

Whether it lasts or not is the other thing and it also, as you say, is not an agreement. It's not an agreement yet. It's going to be a pause in fighting while they hopefully work out the conditions under which there could be a more lasting truce, a long-lasting one, which is what Israel wants, and that's what the United States wants, as well.

The thing that -- you make a very good point, though. One of the problems Hamas has got in Gaza, even if it wants to go and control all these groups, they're not the only group there.

You've got Islamic Jihad. You've got freelancers who've come in through the unstable Sinai-area who have come into Gaza through those tunnels and who are doing their own mischief. Whether Hamas is going to have the ability to clamp down on everyone and stop every rocket, it's going to be interesting to see, given the security vacuum Ben Wedeman was talking about before.

MALVEAUX: I want to bring in our own Wolf Blitzer who has talked with Israeli president and to give us a sense of how confident he is that this is going to be something that is going to be achievable.

What does he make of this deal with Hamas?

WOLF BLITZER, CNN HOST, "THE SITUATION ROOM": Well, Suzanne and Michael, I spoke with the Israeli president, Shimon Peres, earlier today before this agreement was announced by the Egyptians and the Secretary of State, Hillary Clinton.

He was hopeful. He wasn't confident, 100 percent, that it was going to be achieved. He did say that no one really wants Israel to go in on the ground. The Israelis don't want to do that. The Palestinians, certainly, in Gaza don't want to see that happen.

He was hopeful. He was very, very complimentary to the Egyptian role in this, and he praised the Egyptian president, Mohamed Morsi, he says, for stepping up and taking responsibility, doing the responsible thing in speaking and dealing with Hamas and getting close to an agreement.

There's been, as far as can I tell so far, no official statement yet from the Israelis government confirming all of this, but it's been widely anticipated that, despite that bus bombing earlier in the day in Tel Aviv, it looks like this deal has been put forward.

There's no doubt that the Secretary of State, she's announcing it together with the Egyptian government, the government of President Mohamed Morsi. They wouldn't be announcing it unless Prime Minister Netanyahu had signed off on this.

We're also told that President Obama spoke with Prime Minister Netanyahu.

Now, the proof is going to be in the pudding. We've got to see if this is going to hold, if the Israelis stop their attacks on various targets in Gaza and if the Hamas forces and others inside Gaza stop launching rockets and missiles at various in sites in Israel, if that takes place.

Now, we have to watch closely to see what happens. This is going to be difficult as all of us who've covered this story for a long time know and, if it works -- and that's a big "if" -- if it works, it's only going to be the start, hopefully, of a peace process that will get Israeli-Palestinian negotiations off the ground.

MALVEAUX: And, Wolf, I want to read part of that statement that we're getting from the president's office here from that read-out, the phone call to the prime minister, Netanyahu -- this one 'graph that struck me here -- to get your sense of what this means. He said that the president, President Obama, said the United States will use the opportunity offered by a ceasefire to intensify efforts to help Israel address its security needs, especially the issue of the smuggling of weapons and explosives into Gaza.

What do you make of that? What kind of aid are we talking about, the security situation on the ground that the Israelis are speaking of?

BLITZER: Well, the Israelis are very nervous. They're very worried about all the rockets, all the weapons that have come in, smuggled in a lot of those tunnels or from the sea, if you will, into Gaza.

Those Fajr-5 rockets, missiles, that have reached the outskirts of Tel Aviv, reached the outskirts of Jerusalem, those are Iranian supplied. They get in components and then they're put together. They're assembled in Gaza.

The Israelis want to see that stopped and, in the statement that we just see now from President Obama in his phone conversation with the Israeli prime minister, he is offering what Israel was seeking, some assurances that it's not just going to be talk. There's going to be concrete action to make Israel more secure in the south.

And that's what the Israelis wanted from the U.S. and, certainly, the Egyptians were seeking for assurances from the U.S., as well.

So, it's clear, over these past several days, the U.S. has been intimately, deeply involved in extending these kinds of assurances to both the Israelis and the Egyptians to get this process going.

As you know, the U.S. doesn't deal directly with Hamas, so the U.S. has allowed Egypt, has obviously encouraged the Egyptians, to do so, and now there is this deal, so let's see if it works.

MALVEAUX: One of the other things, Wolf, that the statement says is that the president, President Obama, was committed to seeking additional funding for the "Iron Dome" and other U.S.-Israeli missile defense programs.

I'm assuming that that is something that the U.S., as well as the Israelis, certainly were talking about to actually bolster that defense system.

BLITZER: Yeah and it's worked rather well so far, that Iron Dome. It's Israeli-developed, but it's funded, in part, in large part, by the United States to the tune of hundreds of millions of dollars so far.

And as part of this package deal, it looks like the U.S. is making a further commitment, the president of the United States to the prime minister of Israel, that that funding will continue and the Israelis have been pretty grateful about it.

When I spoke to the Israeli president, Shimon Peres, this morning, Suzanne, he said that there would be a lot more Israeli deaths, a lot more Israeli injuries if it wasn't for this Iron Dome system that the U.S. has helped Israel with in terms of funding and some technology development and he was grateful to the United States.

He was very effusive in his praise of President Obama and, when I recalled to Shimon Peres that it was only a few weeks ago that Mitt Romney, the Republican nominee, was accusing President Obama of throwing Israel under the bus, Shimon Peres, the president of Israel, had no part in that, had no time for that.

He said Israel has not been thrown under the bus and he said that the extent of the U.S.-Israeli military-to-military and intelligence cooperation, he said, is basically unprecedented, and he referred specifically to that Iron Dome system that has been so important in saving lives here in Israel.

HOLMES: Wolf, thanks so much.

I want to bring in Christiane Amanpour now, if we can, and chat more about this. Stand by, Wolf. We'll bring you back into the discussion.

You know, Christiane, obviously, your thoughts on this announcement, this ceasefire? And it is just the beginning, of course. There is a lot more work, obviously, to be done, but something Wolf mentioned and I'm curious your take on it.

The potential here, as these talks go on, to fold it in with the Palestinian Authority, to fold it in to something much broader and bigger when it comes to the peace process?


The fact of the matter is, as you've been saying, is that nobody talks officially to Hamas except for the Egyptians and the Egyptians have been leading this. Make no mistake about it. This has been a totally Egypt-led process.

And you saw, in fact, in the presidential statement from President Obama that he urged the prime minister of Israel to accept this Egyptian ceasefire proposal. And we were almost there last night.

I spoke to Khaled Mishal today. I had an exclusive interview with him. He's the head of Hamas and he told me that they were almost there yesterday, but that it just wasn't fully signed onto by the Israelis.

You've seen all this shuttle diplomacy between Hillary Clinton and Ban Ki-moon and everybody back and forth from Jerusalem to here.

But, look, the P.A. is the legitimate Palestinian group which Israel and the U.S. talks to. However, they have left the P.A., basically, up a tree with no support and they have really marginalized the P.A. because there is absolutely no peace process.

So, here you have this situation where nobody apparently talks to Hamas, and, yet, everybody is talking to Hamas because those were the people who they needed to negotiate with. Really, very, very interesting indeed, what's happened here, particularly, of course, Egypt's role. When we started this more than a week ago, we said that the first-ever Palestinian-Israeli conflict of the new, post-Arab Spring Middle East, would President Morsi be willing and able to do this kind of heavy lifting. And it seems that he has done.

And you were talking about guaranteeing this ceasefire. That's something that Israel really wanted, to have a partnership around this ceasefire, to go into it, not alone with Hamas, but to go into it with guarantors. And ...


AMANPOUR: ... the Egyptian prime minister, the amir of Qatar ...


AMANPOUR: ... foreign minister of Qatar, the prime minister and foreign minister of Tunisia, and the whole Arab League delegation just this week, so this is a far cry from isolating Hamas, which the U.S. and Israel have also wanted and, frankly, which Mubarak used to help do. Now, it's a very different kettle of fish.

MALVEAUX: All right, Christine, thank you very much.

Michael, it's interesting she notes -- I mean, this is after Arab Spring and, you know, now we have a Hamas that is more emboldened and really a test for Secretary Clinton and the Obama administration before the second term to see what they're going to do with these new players here, with the role of Egypt, as well as Hamas and ...

HOLMES: Hamas comes out this politically -- their political stakes have been highly polished by this within the Arab world. They're going to come out this looking pretty good, if think can get something out of it in the end.

We're going to talk to Ben Wedeman after the break about this. And we're going to talk about some of the things -- because what we haven't heard yet are the demands.

I mean, this is a ceasefire, which is a good thing. Hopefully, the rockets will stop, the missiles will stop and people will stop dying, but then comes the hard work, which is who gets what.

So, we're going to take a break and when we come back we'll talk to Ben about that and plenty more.


HOLMES: All right, senior international correspondent Ben Wedeman joining us now live with -- from Gaza as we deal with this ceasefire announcement. A ceasefire, not necessarily a deal. It's a deal to stop firing the hard yards ahead, one imagines.

Ben, your thoughts on -- you know, both sides want to come out of this looking like they won something. What's at stake here? One imagines that the big deal for Hamas is going to be the blockade, the economic blockade of Gaza, and for Israelis, the tunnels.

BEN WEDEMAN, CNN SENIOR INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Yes, for Hamas, that has been their persistent demand in all of this going back several years is that they want an immediate total lifting of the Israeli blockade. Now, at the moment, they have no access whatsoever to Israel. It's hermetically sealed. But, for instance, there's no way, for instance, for a ship to come and dock in the Gaza port, to the extent that it even exists. And at the moment, all sort of entry and exits from Gaza is through Egypt.

Now, what's significant is that Egypt really does hold the keys to Gaza. If the Egyptians decide to crack down on the tunnels and restrict trade, restrict, for instance, the movement of a Hamas official in and out of Gaza, they really can put a lot of pressure on them.

Now, we've seen that since the overthrow of Hosni Mubarak in February of last year, the government in Cairo, particularly the one led by Mohammed Morsi of the Muslim Brotherhood, has been fairly sympathetic to Hamas here in Gaza, and now Hamas is enjoying certainly an amount of political freedom, an amount of political sort of opening that it never had before.

As Christiane mentioned, all these Arab delegations that have come have really given them a lot of strength, a lot of backing compared certainly to the Palestinian Authority in the West Bank, which really does seem to be on the sidelines. So, Hamas definitely comes out of it much stronger politically. Militarily it's a whole different matter. Obviously there's been a lot of destruction, a lot of death, a lot of displacement, but certainly Hamas can say that we put up a fight against Israel and emerged stronger than we were before, at least politically.


HOLMES: What do you make, as an observer of the region, long-time resident of the region, of the level of Arab support for Hamas throughout this post Arab Spring, of course, looking at it through that prism? You know, the Arab world has long been criticized for talking about the Palestinian plight, not doing much about it. And we've seen a procession of Arab officials going through and supporting Hamas and Gaza and (INAUDIBLE) unfolding.

WEDEMAN: Well, it's important to underscore that there's widespread support, not necessarily for Hamas as an organization, but for the Palestinian people. And I think that's really what riles people up in places like Cairo, in Amman, and elsewhere is to see that Gaza has been pummeled by the Israeli air force.

Hamas isn't necessarily that popular, a, here in Gaza, and also elsewhere. People look beyond the politics and have a natural sort of solidarity with the people of Gaza. And certainly that -- the difference is that before, for instance, in Cairo, when there were flare-ups in the Arab-Israeli, Palestinian-Israeli conflict, in the past there would be very small demonstrations in support or solidarity with the Palestinians where the Egyptian security outnumbered the protesters perhaps 15, 20 to one. Now Egyptians can go out into Tahrir Square, other parts of Egypt, and demonstrate by the thousands, by the tens of thousands. And, therefore, I think you are now seeing a level of popular support being expressed openly and strongly and freely for the Palestinians -- the Palestinians, not necessarily Hamas, than you ever saw before prior to the Arab Spring.


HOLMES: Yes. And, yes, in a much more tangible way.

Ben, great to get your thoughts. Stay around. We'll discuss more.


MALVEAUX: Yes, we're going to take a quick break and then we're going to speak with a former U.S. envoy, special envoy to the Middle East, George Mitchell.


MALVEAUX: Coming up in about an hour or so, a ceasefire that was brokered by the Egyptians between Hamas and Israel is expected to take effect. That the statements will be officially passed around to all sides.

We want to bring in George Mitchell, former U.S. special envoy to the Middle East, on the phone from New York for a couple of things. First of all, your initial reaction in terms of how serious you think this ceasefire agreement is, whether or not you have faith that this is going to last, at least in the short-term.

GEORGE MITCHELL, FMR. U.S. SPECIAL ENVOY TO MIDDLE EAST (via telephone): Well, we'll only know until it happens. But I think that the Egyptian government has invested a lot of effort and, in a sense, prestige in this. And so I think they will be trying very hard to make certain that this ceasefire does hold, at least for a sufficient period of time so that the parties can discuss the broader issues. They both obviously have demands and policies that they want to be followed. They're in some disagreement and hopefully there will be some discuss of that.

MALVEAUX: You have been at the heart of these talks, these negotiations for a number of years. The statement that's coming from the White House, we get a sense of what the U.S. has offered the Israelis. The statement saying that the president was committed to seeking additional funding for the iron dome and other U.S./Israeli missile defense programs. What do you think the United States, the Obama administration, Secretary Clinton, offered the Egyptians, President Morsi?

MITCHELL: Well, under the terms of the Camp David agreement way back in 1979, when Egypt and Israel agreed to peace, what was a glue that held it together was support -- financial support from the United States to both Israel and Egypt that has continued over a long period of time with some changes, both in amounts and purposes. But, nonetheless, it's been an important part of our relationship with Israel. So, I mean, with Israel and with Egypt in this particular case. And I think that they'll want to continue that. And it helps them in terms of dealing with the other western countries that have good relations with the United States. So there's a very broad interest in the Egypt.

Remember now, they took power as a result of an election -- a revolution in an election that wasn't sparked by the Israeli conflict. It was sparked by domestic considerations in Egypt. This is an indigenous Egyptian movement, and they've got to concentrate on dealing with the problems that their people face. This helps them in that regard.

MALVEAUX: Morsi, the new president, the new Egyptian president here, what do you make of how he has brokered this deal? He seems like he is somebody who certainly is a player that the United States is welcoming.

MITCHELL: Well, of course, it's not our responsibility to select the leaders of our governments. And whatever our views, he's chosen by the people of Egypt in a free and fair election. And so we, in accordance with our own principles and the right of self-governance, deal with that.

But I have to say that he has clearly recognized Egypt's national interests here and hopefully, if this can succeed and take hold -- and, remember, this is not the first time this has happened. The Egyptians have been very deeply involved in this for a very long period of time. I think it will only go (ph) down to his benefit, both domestically and around the world. But in the end, his success or failure will rest upon how well the people of Egypt feel their interests have been met in terms of the need for jobs, for education. The same thing that people want everywhere in the world.

HOLMES: Mr. Mitchell, Michael Holmes jumping in here. You're a man who has looked big picture at this whole region, this whole issue for so many years now. I'm curious, you know, one of the big problems that faces the whole Palestinian question is the schism between Fatah, of the Palestinian Authority, and Hamas. I wonder if there's a potential out of all of this for some sort of reproachment between the two, because that's what's need to move any kind of negotiation forward. Hamas is not going to be able to deliver peace with Israel.

MITCHELL: Well, of course, keep in mind that that schism has gone on now for several years and efforts to reconcile have gone on for several years. The Egyptians, in fact, have been central to that effort as well, trying to bring the two sides together.

There are a lot of policy and other considerations. Personality differences. But at the heart of it has been that Hamas has always insisted on retaining the right to use force in behalf of their policy goals while Fatah, under President Abbas, took the position that non- violence and negotiation was the path.