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Israel, Hamas Cease Fire to Start at Top of Hour; Israeli Prime Minister Talks about Cease-Fire.
Aired November 21, 2012 - 13:30 ET
THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.
MICHAEL HOLMES, CNN ANCHOR: We have, Maen Areikat, a Palestinian representative to the United States joining on the phone from Washington D.C.
Good to talk to you.
I want to get your reaction to this, too. But I also want to get your thoughts on the fact that through all of this, through the conflict, through the cease-fire discussions, the great irony is the Palestinian Authority, the governing body, the president of the Palestinian Authority had nothing to do with it. Is that a big problem going forward for the Palestinian people?
MAEN AREIKAT, CHIEF REPRESENTATIVE, PLO MISSION TO THE UNITED STATES (voice-over): Well, first of all, we are pleased to hear that the efforts of Egypt and other parties in the region, who have been called with President Abbas and the Palestinian Authority, are succeeding, and it will be an imminent end to the hostilities, to the violence there.
Our top priority here is to provide safety and security for the Palestinian civilians in the Gaza Strip who have endured and suffered over the last eight days. 157 dead, more than 1,000 dead. There are, on the Palestinian Authority and President Abbas, was very, very much visible. He met with the Jordanian foreign minister and the secretary general of the United Nations today, with the United States secretary of state, Hillary Clinton.
Although, we are not on the ground in the Gaza Strip, we have been very active for all parties, including Hamas.
HOLMES: But the problem has not been, has it not, been that the Palestinian Authority, when it comes to Gaza, is irrelevant. And Mahmoud Abbas has really had no say in this at the moment, and that's a problem going forward in the bigger picture of Palestinian unity, is it not? Is this an opportunity in some ways for Hamas and Fatah, Palestinian Authority, to make up, to move forward with some sort of sense of unity?
AREIKAT: Well, first of all, President Abbas is the elected president of the Palestinian people everywhere. He has not only the elected president of Palestinians in the West Bank. He was elected in 2005 in free democratic elections.
HOLMES: But Hamas is running Gaza. Let's be real about that.
AREIKAT: I'm sorry?
HOLMES: Hamas runs Gaza. Let's be real about that.
AREIKAT: And that's -- I mean, this I cannot dispute. I mean, I'm not arguing with you on this fact. What I'm trying to tell you, that he heads the Palestine Liberation Organization, which remains the sole legitimate representative of the people. Now, nobody can deny that we have political differences with Hamas.
Our top priority right now, and it has been for the last few days, is to secure the safety, the well being, to stop the bloodshed in the Gaza Strip. And we hope that, you know, the efforts that have been made in the last few months will continue between all the Palestinian factions to put an end to the existing divisions.
HOLMES: It's good to hope for that, but what is the reality that it might happen, or a chance that it might happen? Just on the surface, it seems that politically at least, coming out of this, Hamas has gained and the Palestinian Authority has not.
AREIKAT: Well, I wouldn't look at it this way. I have been hearing this version by different commentators. Hamas is winning. The PLO is losing. I wouldn't really look at it this way. After all, the Palestinians of the Gaza Strip, the Palestinians of the West Bank, the Palestinians in the (INAUDIBLE), they are all one people. They all say one objective, which is to reach an end to this Israeli military occupation. Because in the midst of this recent violence, people forgot what is the root cause of this. Why four years ago, Israel went in the Gaza Strip, why today they went into the Gaza Strip, and why they made do that in the future? It's the continuation of the Israeli military occupation and the blockade that has been imposed on the Gaza Strip for the last 10 years --
AREIKAT: -- 1.7 million Palestinians --
HOLMES: I understand. And you've certainly made that but. But I have to ask you this. In a matter of days, a little over a week, the Palestinian Authority is going to go to the United Nations and ask for nonmember observer status for Palestine. Is that not a joke when you are talking about state recognition on some level when you really have two countries, the West Bank and Gaza, run by different groups and without any political unity?
AREIKAT: Absolutely not. This is something that will be presented by the United Nations General Assembly on behalf of the PLO. As I explained to you earlier, the PLO remains the sole representative of the Palestinian people.
On the contrary, it will definitely contribute to the expediting of the Israeli military occupation. It will put the Palestinians for the first time at par with Israel. Palestine will be an occupied state by a member state of the United Nations, which is occupied by Israel.
HOLMES: Well --
AREIKAT: And as the president explained, we are willing to engage in negotiations immediately with Israel in order to solve all bilateral issues because all these issues, the outstanding issues must be resolved bilaterally between Israel and the Palestinians.
HOLMES: Certainly there is a lot of support within many countries in the United Nations for that application. The U.S. and Israel and others not among them, but that obviously going ahead, that application.
Maen Areikat, Palestinian representative to the United States, appreciate your thoughts on this day. Thanks so much.
AREIKAT: Thank you very much.
HOLMES: All right. Now, in a matter of minutes, of course, that cease-fire, 25 minutes, a little less, is meant to take effect. The fighting will stop, or will it? And the agreement has broader implications. We're going to break that down when we come back.
SUZANNE MALVEAUX, CNN ANCHOR: Let's go to Fred Pleitgen in the Israel city of Ashkelon. It sits near the border with Gaza. It has been hit many times by Hamas rockets.
Fred, we saw you yesterday taking cover, duck and cover, and some of those sirens going off. Now you've got this reported cease-fire that's supposed to take effect in about 20 minutes, 22 minutes or so. What are you seeing from your vantage point?
FREDERIK PLEITGEN, CNN BERLIN CORRESPONDENT: Well, what we're seeing is actually a lot more air alarms going on here. Again, it was actually very similar to what we had last night. We were, of course, on the air as well. The authorities here are urging people to stay either inside or close to a building, which is actually what we're doing. We have this cafe here in the back drop, and we have a building right next door.
That's also, by the way, Suzanne, one of the reasons why you're not seeing many people here in this cafe who are going to be watching the speech made by Benjamin Netanyahu, because many are, instead, electing to stay inside simply because it's so very dangerous. We're hearing that towns like Beersheba have been hit. There have been rocket attacks on the town of Ashdod as well. Apparently, most of those rockets were intercepted by the Iron Dome missile defense system.
But the people that we're talking to here, Suzanne, they have sort of mixed opinions. A lot of them are not very happy with the prospects of the cease-fire. They felt that the military operation should have gone on, that their objectives were not reached, and that most likely or very possibly they'll be facing a similar situation with rockets falling on their head in a couple of months or a couple of years.
It's also one individual, however that, we spoke to and said if it's quiet here, that's good. So he was quite happy at the prospect and the possible cease-fire -- Suzanne?
MALVEAUX: So, Fred, you talk about some people. They feel like they would like to continue this. They don't want this cease-fire because they feel like we're going to be back in the same place where they were before with the rockets. How would they define success? How would they know when they've won, when they've accomplished what they set out to do? What does that mean?
PLEITGEN: That's -- yes, that's a very good question. Certainly, one where you're also going to hear mixed answers. One of the things they say -- there's literally some of the people that call this "mowing the lawn." They say, every time we have air strikes like this, what happens is that Hamas regroups and they'll start firing rockets again. So many people here feel that there should be a ground operation into Gaza, that the military should go in there and to quote these folks here, some of them here, "to solve all this once and for all." That's one of the opinions you get. Other people also believe that that would be too much, that the aerial campaign should go on, that Hamas should be weakened in that way. But it's very difficult to get an exact answer from people, because obviously they are also well aware of the fact that there have been ground operations in the past that have not brought the success that they want. But certainly, what they're saying is that their bottom line is that they say Benjamin Netanyahu said that he would go out to solve this problem once and for all, and as long as that is not done, they feel that he has not accomplished what he set out to. That's quoting people who are here.
Of course, many of them are not military experts themselves, so their opinions are somewhat different. But they said they want a broader military operation. They want a longer air campaign, a stronger air campaign. And many of them said quite out right, frankly, they want an invasion into Gaza by Israel's armed forces -- Suzanne?
MALVEAUX: All right. Fred, we're going to get back to you.
But we're looking at the clock here and it looks like we're about 20, 19 minutes away from this cease-fire that is expected to place between Israel and Hamas. We saw the announcement coming from Egyptian officials as well as Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, that cease- fire negotiated by the Egyptians between Hamas and Israel. Again, it is going to be up to what takes place on the ground to see whether or not this is even a real agreement.
We're going to take a quick break. We'll be right back.
HOLMES: We're bringing you up-to-date on the breaking news we're following. That is, of course, the cease-fire agreement between Israel and Hamas set to take effect in less than 15 minutes.
What you are looking at there is where we are expecting the Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu to come out and speak to the media, and it's going to be interesting to se what his take is on this agreement. This is in Jerusalem.
Let's bring in Jill Dougherty now.
Jill, you were in the White House last time I saw you. You are at the White House. Looks like Secretary Clinton ending her tenure on a bit of a positive note, depending on what her involvement in this was, but it seems that her little whistle-stop tour around the region may have had an impact there. What's your take on what happened? Certainly, certainly, the Egyptian president comes out of this shining.
JILL DOUGHERTY, CNN FOREIGN AFFAIRS CORRESPONDENT: Yes. I mean, you would certainly want to see behind the scenes precisely what she did, but it was obviously very tightly coordinated with President Obama, and what incentives could be offered, especially to Israel, when we're talking about the Iron Dome and additional types of missile defense programs.
I think, Michael, there's an interesting tone in the statements that are coming out of the White House. In fact, pointing your attention to the White House, saying that the president "commended Prime Minister Netanyahu for agreeing to the Egyptian cease-fire proposal, which the president recommended the prime minister do."
Now, on the one hand you could say it sounds like Mr. Obama is taking credit for that. But I think there's also another sub-text, which is, it kind of shifts the burden. It makes the Israel prime minister look as if, you know, he is still careful. He was convinced by Mr. Obama and he went along with this.
But there really is now more of a burden, both on President Obama's shoulders and, to a certain extent, on Hillary Clinton's shoulders for carrying that out, whether this will hold. That's what really nobody knows.
HOLMES: Well, the detail is everything. As you point out, the nuances well behind the scenes, you know, what -- Suzanne and I have been discussing this. The thing is that since 2007, this has happened time and time again. There's a shooting war. They have a cease-fire. Then six months later, they're back at it again. What needs to be is some substance in this. And it's been heartening in a way to hear talk about let's discuss the economic blockade and make that part of some lasting deal. Let's stop the rearming of Hamas and make that something that's on the table. Isn't that what is required here is substance to this to make it stick?
DOUGHERTY: Absolutely. In fact, listen to what Hillary Clinton said, you know, it's a step in the right direction but you need a more durable solution. And that, I think, is really the challenge here, which is not only to try to get a cease-fire, but you couldn't put that cease-fire into effect without some promise of what was going to happen next. Now, with Israel, obviously, they are insuring them --
HOLMES: Jill, just to interrupt you there. Jill, I'm sorry.
HOLMES: The Israeli prime minister, Benjamin Netanyahu, speaking. Let's listen.
BENJAMIN NETANYAHU, ISRAELI PRIME MINISTER (through translation): Top-level commanders of the organization who destroyed thousands of rockets and most of the rockets aimed at the center of the country and we destroyed control facilities of Hamas.
I have to say that all this was done with the firm support on the part of the leaders of the international community. And I would like especially to thank President Barack Obama for his unreserved support for Israel's actions in the operation and for Israel's right to defend itself as well as his support for the Iron Dome systems.
I would also like to thank the Secretary of State Hillary Clinton and to express my appreciation for the efforts of Egypt to attain a cease- fire.
In the talk that I held this evening with President Obama, I agreed that it was a good idea to give an opportunity to the cease-fire in order to enable the situation to be calmed and to enable Israeli citizens to return to their day to day lives.
At the same time, it is self-evident that Israel cannot sit and accept as our enemies continue to arm themselves with terrorist arms. And so I have agreed with the president that Israel and the United States would work together to prevent the smuggling of arms to the terror organizations, the vast majority of which comes from Iran.
From the day it was established, the state of Israel has faced conflicts, challenges in the Middles East. And in recent years, we have all seen that this complex city has increased enormously. And under these conditions, we are required to navigate the ship of state with wisdom and responsibility, taking into account all the considerations, military, and political. That is what a responsible government does and that is what we did in this case too. We implemented military force, but also political wisdom.
I know there are those who expect an even more intense military response, and that may perhaps be needed. But at this time, the right thing for the state of Israel is to exhaust this opportunity, to obtain a long-term cease-fire or an ongoing cease-fire. As the prime minister I have the supreme responsibility to take the right steps to safeguard our security. That is what I've always done and that is what I will continue to do.
In the past week, people have died in Israel. And on behalf of the nation, I would like to send condolences to the families and wish a speedy recovery to the injured.
I would like to thank my colleagues, defense minister, Ehud Barak, and Foreign Minister Victor Lieberman. We worked together as a team, of one mind. And I would like to thank the members and the members of the cabinet who each worked in his own area for the sake of Israel's security. I am -- I would also like to recognize the support of the opposition parties who expressed their support as well.
I would like to thank the chief of staff, Lieutenant General Bennie Gantz (ph) and Premier Pardo (ph), the head of the Mossad, for their excellent actions, for the achievements of operation Pillar of Defense.
I would like to thank the pilots, the fighters and developers of the Iron Dome systems, the members of the intelligence community, and all the members of the security community, and the reservists who left their families and immediately reported for duty.
I would like to express my appreciation for the mayors who supported and worked for the sake of the home front.
And above all I salute you, the citizens of the state of Israel.
We have a strong army. We have a strong nation. I am proud to be your prime minister.
MALVEAUX: Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu making a statement there.
And, Michael, a couple of things that you and I noticed about that statement, one was about Iran, and that he was satisfied with President Obama and some sort of agreement between the two that they would not allow Iran, the smuggling of weapons from Iran to Hamas.
HOLMES: Yes. It was interesting. The wording says everything. It wasn't that he said, we will not stand for more rocket fire. He said, it is self-evident that Israel cannot sit and accept as our enemies arm themselves, meaning the rearming of Hamas across the border with Egypt is obviously one of the conditions that Israel is going to demand.
MALVEAUX: It was one of the things we saw from the prime minister that was a frustration when you saw him before the United Nations and he drew the red line and whether or not there was some difference, some daylight between President Obama and Benjamin Netanyahu and where that red line was for Iran. It looks like they're a little closer, on the same page. At least that seems to be what he is suggesting.
HOLMES: He spoke highly of President Obama. He said that was all done with the firm support of the international community, but then singling out U.S. President Barack Obama for his particular support. And part of this is there is a deal being done here. Israel will expect there will not be arms smuggled in to Gaza the way they had been over last couple of years, since 2008, 2009. And we have yet to hear from Khaled Mechaal, the Hamas leader, exiled in Cairo, hear what his quid pro quo will be in this deal. MALVEAUX: I think one of the things, too, this seems to be an opportunity for a couple of players here. Secretary Hillary Clinton, getting over the whole Benghazi flop, if you will, and a lot of criticism that came up over how the Obama administration dealt with that. This is her last, really, significant diplomatic effort here and mission, if you will. And she certainly looks like she's positioned herself well if the cease-fire can hold, that they played a role that she can leave with a certain accomplishment.
HOLMES: And you know what, I realized the time too, we'll know very soon whether this will hold or not. We're less than four minutes away from when the cease-fire is meant to be implemented, 2:00 p.m. eastern time, 9:00 p.m. local time in the Middles East.
And the key is going to be what happens, not just in the hours ahead, but what is going to happen in the days and weeks ahead, because this is the beginning of hopefully a negotiation toward something more lasting.
MALVEAUX: Certainly. That's been the goal, and unsuccessful, but the goal of many previous presidents and world leaders.
MALVEAUX: Thank you, Michael.
CNN NEWSROOM will continue with Anderson Cooper after a quick break. Thank you for joining us.