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Israel, Hamas Reach Cease-Fire Agreement; Celebrations in Gaza

Aired November 21, 2012 - 15:00   ET


ANDERSON COOPER, CNN ANCHOR: And welcome back to our continuing coverage of the ceasefire agreement that went in effect one hour ago between Israel and Hamas brokered through Egypt.

And also the involvement obviously of Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and Secretary of State Hillary Clinton who was shuttling between Cairo and Jerusalem with a stop off in Ramallah to talk to the Palestinian Authority, President Mahmoud Abbas.

That was a face-saving gesture. We just heard from the head of Hamas in Cairo, praising the agreement, praising the state of Egypt for their guarantees they made in this agreement.

We also talked to Israel's ambassador to the United States a short time ago, Michael Oren, who said there have been some rockets fired back Hamas into Southern Israel. He did not go into great detail on that.

I want to check in with -- we're here with Wolf Blitzer in Jerusalem and I'm also joined by Ben Wedeman in Gaza City.

Ben, we have been hearing celebratory gunfire, obviously a lot in the streets there. And, Wolf, that obviously is a sign of how relieved a lot of people and how happy people seemed to be with a cease-fire agreement. As you know, Gaza City has been virtually empty. The streets are virtually empty at night at this time. We're really for the first time now in the last eight days seeing large numbers of people going out there. But again the next hours are critical to see whether or not the cease-fire holds.

WOLF BLITZER, CNN ANCHOR: In the Middle East, hopes have been dashed so many times. There is a temptation we have when there seems to be an agreement of some sort to go out of our way and exaggerate the potential for good news.

In this part of the world, and having covered it for a long time, I have always said pessimism pays because as hopeful as things are, it could easily deteriorate very quickly.

COOPER: What are you going to be watching in the next few hours? We're seeing the live shot of cars on the streets in Gaza City, which the last three nights that I have been there I have not seen at all.

BLITZER: I'm going to see if there is any violations. That's the first and foremost the most important, if there are no more violations, if the agreement holds, there is peace and quiet on both sides, in Gaza, and in Southern Israel, no more rockets coming in, no more shelling. That will be very encouraging. That will be a nice hopeful sign. But you know what? We're going to have to test this.

COOPER: And according to this agreement, within 24 hours, negotiations are supposed to go under way through Egypt with Hamas, with Israel, for opening up borders to a greater degree than they have been.

Ben Wedeman is joining us in Gaza City.

Ben, you heard from the head of Hamas in Cairo. What struck you about his comments? Ben Wedeman, can you hear me in Gaza City?

BEN WEDEMAN, CNN SENIOR INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Yes, I can, Anderson. It is just very, very loud here.

I haven't seen this many people in the streets of Gaza for quite some time. You can hear the mosques blaring, the horns honking, people whistling and cheering. It is quite a scene on the streets of Gaza at the moment, Anderson.

COOPER: Ben, I think you probably heard the statement made by the head of Hamas in Cairo. I'm wondering what -- your thoughts on it. He had a lot of praise for Egypt, a lot of confidence about not only Hamas' power moving forward, but about what might happen once negotiations begin 24 hours from now.

WEDEMAN: Definitely.

I think we see a Khaled Meshaal who is satisfied with what has been achieved, definitely a different sort of atmosphere than the press statement made by Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and Defense Minister Ehud Barak. Hamas emerges from this conflict out of -- having broken out of its six-year political isolation, and it show on their faces -- Anderson.

COOPER: And, Wolf, I mean, the United States, Israel tried to politically isolate Hamas for the last six years. Have they now just completely failed in that?

BLITZER: There is no doubt at least in the short term (AUDIO GAP) Hamas, its reputation among Palestinians, among the Arabs, among Muslims and others has been enhanced because of what it achieved. And I say achieved in the sense that they have managed to do stuff to the Israelis that hadn't been done in a long time, hit the outskirts of Tel Aviv with a missile, even though there was, you know, not huge casualties or anything along those lines, or hit the outskirts of Jerusalem and terrorize in effect hundreds of thousands of Israelis in the southern part of the country.

That has elevated Hamas. They were fighting what they regard their archenemy, the Zionist enemy, if you will, and...

COOPER: Not recognizing the state of Israel and Israel views Hamas as...


BLITZER: As a terrorist organization, yes.

COOPER: As a terrorist organization. What does that mean moving forward though for any kind of actual solution, a two-state solution down the road?

BLITZER: Let's see if this were -- this will be overly optimistic, at least right now -- if this were to convince Hamas that, you know what, you should accept the conditions that the United States, the European Union, others have put forward, you will be recognized, you will be recognized as -- and people will talk to you, you accept Israel, you renounce terrorism, and you accept previous Israeli-Palestinian agreements, that would be a significant step forward.

I'm not saying Hamas is going to do that and we're not getting any indication they're doing it. But at the same time, maybe this could be a potential down-the-road long-term breakthrough if that were to happen.

COOPER: The other concern of many people in Israel is that Hamas will just use this time to replenish their stockpile of increasingly sophisticated weapons.

BLITZER: That's the fear in Israel.

COOPER: Absolutely, that's the fear in Israel. We will talk about that.

Sara Sidner is joining us from Tel Aviv where a bomb was thrown into a bus earlier in the day. And there was celebration in Gaza City, celebratory gunfire in the wake of that, when that announcement was made over loudspeakers by various mosques.

Sara, I'm wondering about the reaction you're hearing tonight to the cease-fire in Tel Aviv.

SARA SIDNER, CNN INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: It's interesting because this is an area -- we're right along the beach, Anderson -- where it is usually bustling with a lot of people. People are at the cafes, people are at the restaurants and it is quiet.

And that may have to do with earlier the tense situation here, hearing there was a bus that exploded, injuring several people, we're talking about 22 people, some inside, some outside of the bus. We know five of the people are still in the hospital. But it gave people quite a scare and it certainly put people on high alert, the government also putting the city on high alert because of that blast and still looking for suspects in that blast.

But what I can tell you is I spoke to a senior diplomat, Israeli diplomat who talked a little bit about what the cease-fire meant and sounded quite optimistic actually, mostly because of Egypt's role. You have new leadership in Egypt. The world has changed since the Arab spring and the concern that Israel had that perhaps with President Morsi in place, with the Muslim Brotherhood in place that is close to Hamas, that there would be a difference in the way that Egypt handled situations like this.

But to see them step forward, to see them being the keeper of this cease-fire and trying to make sure that it is in place, not the enforcer but the keeper of this, there was quite a bit of optimism in his voice and he was happy to see that they felt like they could count on Egypt to try to be that intermediary, just as they did the Mubarak regime -- Anderson.

COOPER: And we should say the Israeli Defense Forces have said -- told CNN they know of -- they say they know of two rocket launches from Gaza and several interceptions since the cease-fire has gone into effect at 9:00 p.m. local time, just over an hour ago. The Israeli ambassador to the U.S. indicated that as well to us in an interview just a short time ago.

Our Ben Wedeman is standing by in Gaza City, has not seen any rockets being launched from Gaza City, but obviously the vantage point Ben has from our bureau there is on only one part of the city. So, Israeli Defense Forces saying two rockets have been fired.

But, Ben, Israel's ambassador, Michael Oren, saying he -- that's not unusual, that that's not -- he didn't seem to be making too big of a deal of that. He said it takes some time in a cease-fire like this for everybody to kind of come into line if in fact that's going to happen.

WEDEMAN: Yes, that's the case.

I remember at the end of Operation Cast Lead in 2008-2009, we were out in northern Gaza hours after this cease-fire took effect and saw two rockets fired from that area, right in front of us, in fact, into Israel. I think all sides understand that there are a few loose cannons, so to speak, around, and that it is inevitable there will be violations, certainly in the beginning.

And I think we really do have to watch how the next 24 hours play out, if, indeed, there is a dramatic de-escalation of the situation. And what we're seeing now, certainly from Gaza, there is no rocket fire from the city. There is a good deal of celebratory gunfire, but that's a different sort of fire -- Anderson.

COOPER: Yes. It is critical to mention that Hamas is not the only faction, the only actor in Gaza. And the only one who has access to rockets. Islamic Jihad, there are other groups as well.

This agreement, this cease-fire from Israel's perspective, Hamas is responsible for all factions maintaining the cease-fire.

BLITZER: That's what Mark Regev, the spokesman for Prime Minister Netanyahu told us, they will hold Hamas responsible, even if some splinter group, Islamic Jihad or some other group, launches (AUDIO GAP) at Israel (AUDIO GAP) a violation of this agreement.

But I suspect there will be some flexibility. They recognize that sometimes when there is an agreement of this nature, there will be a tendency for the situation to be a little bit dicey. I think there is going to have to be some flexibility on both sides. If there is a little bit of goodwill, and I suspect there will be, maybe this thing will work.

COOPER: Let's see.

Wolf Blitzer, appreciate it. Wolf is going to have a lot more at the top of the next hour. He's moved to "THE SITUATION ROOM" to here in Jerusalem.


COOPER: It is only official when...




BLITZER: You can run, but you can't hide.

COOPER: All right.

Our coverage continues. We will hear from both sides, representatives of the Israeli government and representatives from the Palestinian Authority as well. We will be right back.


HILLARY RODHAM CLINTON, U.S. SECRETARY OF STATE: 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.



COOPER: Welcome back to our continuing coverage of the ongoing cease- fire that began at 9:00 local time here more than one hour ago.

Hanan Ashrawi is a member of the Palestinian Legislative Council. She's joining me now on the phone from Vienna, Austria.

Appreciate you being with us. Your thoughts on this cease-fire?

HANAN ASHRAWI, PALESTINIAN LEGISLATIVE COUNCIL: Well, Anderson, we think it is a very positive move.

The first objective is to stop the bloodshed and save lives, and the fact that you have over almost 150 Palestinians killed and 1,100 wounded, and massive amounts of destruction. We are very pleased that the shooting and firing has stopped, but we also believe that this is a first step.

And if it stops there, and if we don't deal with the causes of violence again, then it will erupt again. So, in a sense this is a positive first step, but we do hope that there will be a serious tackling of the issues of the occupation and the siege and we can achieve genuine peace, rather than temporary truces. And the Palestinian people constantly pay the price whenever there is a temporary truce.

COOPER: More negotiations are to begin 24 hours from now, negotiations about the blockade of Gaza and other negotiations. What do you think are the biggest first steps that need to occur?

ASHRAWI: Well, first, the thing is stopping shooting, which is important, because there has been bombing and shelling ceaselessly.

And the assassination policy has to stop, which Israel said it will stop. Then the next thing of the siege is important is because it has transformed Gaza into a total disaster area, it has created massive unemployment, massive poverty; 80 percent of people are on food aid. And it has created an abnormal situation that also generates resentment and anger and violence.

So, this has to stop. And it seems to me if we are going to move beyond that, lifting the siege, then what we should do is to prepare the ground for the two-state solution, to accept the Palestinian state that is at the U.N. and to move from there in order to transform the reality from one of occupation and siege and killing and destruction and settlement to a situation of good neighborly relations.

COOPER: How much more difficult though is a two-state solution, is some sort of long-term solution, given the division between the Palestinian Authority and Hamas? And Hamas is, what most observers say, is an increasingly powerful Hamas over the last eight days.

ASHRAWI: Of course, every time Israel uses the Palestinian people in Gaza as cannon fodder, Hamas comes out stronger. And Hamas is seen now as having withstood this massive onslaught and managed not just to survive, but to get its demands accepted.

What we're talking about is a comprehensive Palestinian situation. We don't see the West Bank and Gaza as two separate entities. Yes, there are differences with Hamas, but we are one nation, one people and we need to have the same solution. We're talking about now a dialogue among all the different factions.

There was a commitment by everybody, during this incursion, that there will be reconciliation. There were envoys sent to Gaza, as well from the West Bank. There were lots of discussion among factions. The president called for a meeting of all of them, including Hamas and Islamic Jihad.

And we hope that this will trigger a new reconciliation to implement the signed agreement, also the Cairo agreement, and to move ahead as one unified nation. We know it is not easy. We know there are different political agendas, but hopefully the national interest will prevail and we will work on it.

So, it seems to me are a two-state solution, which Hamas accepts if all the Palestinians, if the Palestinians would accept through it through a referendum, is the real solution. The occupation is not only lethal. It is abnormal and it generates aberrant behavior. And of course Israel...


COOPER: Can you ever see a day where Hamas accepts the right of Israel to exist?

ASHRAWI: I can once Israel accepts the rights of the Palestinians to self-determination and to sovereignty and to independent statehood and stops treating us like a captive subhuman species.

This has to stop. It seems to me Israel thinks that it is entitled, that it has a sense of privilege, that it can exist above the law, and at the same time that the Palestinians are excluded from the protection of the law.

You get accountability for Israel, it lives within the law, and you get protection for the Palestinians in accordance with the law. And then you will see not just Hamas, but you will see a consensus among the Palestinians that we would like to live as neighbors.

But if Israel constantly negates not just our rights, but our fundamental humanity, the sense, the process of demonization, the process of exclusion, the process of holding everything Palestinian open and up for grabs, this is something that has to stop.

Israel has to accept the fact that we have the right to self- determination, we have the right to freedom, to dignity, to our own land, to our own resources. We have accepted Israel on 78 percent of historical Palestine, and now Israel is stealing what is left of the 22 percent which it has occupied in '67.

We're saying, leave us alone. Let the Palestinian people go. We will have our state in the West Bank, including Jerusalem and Gaza, and we will live as good neighbors.

COOPER: Obviously, complex negotiations for all of that to occur.

Hanan Ashrawi, appreciate you being on the program.

Naftali Bennett joins us now on the phone from Tel Aviv. He's a former chief of staff for Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu.

Are you disappointed by the cease-fire?

NAFTALI BENNETT, FORMER NETANYAHU CHIEF OF STAFF: The widespread sentiment here is profound disappointment.

Millions of Israelis have been in shelters for over a week. We have been showered by 1,300 missiles and we expected to defeat terror. We have a terror state in Gaza. I just want to be very clear. What Mrs. Ashrawi said is false.

They have an independent state that we handed over to them in 2005, and days after handing over that state that everyone hoped would become the (INAUDIBLE) of the Middle East, it became the al Qaeda of the Middle East and immediately they began shooting missiles at us.

We have taken in those missiles again and again and now enough was enough. But unfortunately we have this premature cease-fire, which I expect will just be very temporary, we will be back on square one in a month or two, and then at that point we will have to finish the job.

COOPER: You have no doubt that you will be back to square one? You think this is status quo, it doesn't really change anything?

BENNETT: Yes, I mean, the fundamental problem here, Anderson, is that Hamas, in their charter has determined as their main goal to wipe out Israel. That's what they want to do, that's why they're shooting missiles.

We never shoot at them anything. We defend ourselves. When they shoot -- place a missile launcher in a kindergarten, they're killing their own children and we, yes, we do defend ourselves. But it is the problem that the only way to deal with it is to accept that it's a terror state.

And with terror, you don't negotiate. You have to defeat terror. At this point, it has not happened. But the good news is that the Israeli population, and tens of thousands of reservists have shown resolve and a will to live. This time, it hasn't happened. It is a draw. But next time I think we will do the job and defeat the terrorists.

COOPER: Given that Hamas seems to have emerged from this, certainly with more international allies, with Egypt, Qatar, other countries coming forward, backing them up basically, sending emissaries to Gaza City during the last eight days or so, do you believe that the Israeli policy, the U.S. policy of trying to politically isolate Hamas, has failed?

BENNETT: Well, I think what would happen is that it was a half-baked move, that you have to finish the job.

Imagine if next to Florida there was an al Qaeda state shooting missiles continuously on Miami. What would you do? Would you just reach a cease-fire with it or would you...


COOPER: You say finish the job, though. Is a military solution possible?

BENNETT: Yes, it is. Terror can be defeated.

We hear this question many times, and the answer is, yes. If you're very determined, to fight terror, you can win. We did it in 2002. We had hundreds of suicide bombers coming into Israel and we went out and stopped terror, myself included, and we won. Tel Aviv and Jerusalem is not incurring constant terror attacks anymore because terror has to be dealt with in faith and not in not negotiated with terrorists. That's a big mistake. And I think many Israelis feel we stopped short of defeating the terrorists this time around.

COOPER: Naftali Bennett, I appreciate your perspective as well.

And we as we heard from the head of Hamas speaking in Cairo in the last hour, more negotiations will begin within 24 hours over the next step, what happens next, if the cease-fire holds over the next 24 hours. Naftali Bennett, I appreciate you joining us as well.

We will be right back with more coverage ahead.


COOPER: Hey, welcome back to our continuing coverage of the cease- fire agreement between Israel and Hamas. It was brokered by Egypt and by Secretary of State Hillary Clinton. We also have some breaking news, domestic politics in the United States.

For that, I want to go to Victor Blackwell in Atlanta -- Victor.

VICTOR BLACKWELL, CNN ANCHOR: This just in, Democratic Congressman Jesse Jackson Jr. has resigned from Congress. Jackson has been treated for a mood disorder, gastrointestinal issues and recently spent a month at the Mayo Clinic.

He also is the focus of an investigation into the misuse of campaign funds. And despite having not been seen on Capitol Hill in months, voters in Illinois reelected him to a 10th term this month. Jesse Jackson Jr. is 47 years old -- now back to Anderson in Jerusalem.

COOPER: Victor, appreciate that. Thanks very much.

Back to our news here, our continuing coverage of the cease-fire.

Let's go to Reza Sayah, who is in Cairo, who has been looking at the negotiations that have been taking place and will begin to take place again some 23 hours from now, the next steps in the -- some sort of longer-term cease-fire, some sort of longer-term agreement.

What do we know about what is supposed to happen in 23 hours, assuming the cease-fire holds?

REZA SAYAH, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Yes, well, I think they're going to put many of the issues on the table and try to talk about them. And that includes the travel and the crossings, the economic blockade, the rocket attacks, the assassination attempts by Israel against Hamas officials.

They're going to talk about all of those. And I think moving forward, Egypt is going to be viewed as a watchdog for any condition that is going to be agreed upon. And if those conditions are broken, Egypt is going to be held accountable.

But I think at this point, Anderson, Egypt is looking good in many ways in the international community. I think they bolstered their status. In many ways, this was a test for Egypt, their new Islamist government, the president, Mohammed Morsi, a Muslim Brotherhood figure. There was a lot of questions and alarm in Western capitals when this government came in, would they take a substantially tougher position against Israel, would they take up arms against Israel?

None of that happened and there's all indications that they decided to take a very measured and calculated approach in playing the role of peacemaker. And indications are they didn't want to disrupt their peace deal with Israel, their alliances with Western capitals, with Washington.

Remember, these are all countries that Egypt is going to depend on. And ultimately it looks like they didn't want to jeopardize their standing in the international community -- Anderson.

COOPER: And, Reza, in this agreement, Egypt is a guarantor of the agreement and has a critical role to play moving forward with these tunnels that go from Egypt into Gaza through which a lot of the rockets, a lot of the more sophisticated rockets we have seen, the Fajr-5, the Fajr-3, have actually been smuggled.

It will largely be -- it will require Egypt's cooperation to prevent these weapons from going through in the future.

SAYAH: Yes. This conflict and Egypt's role was test number one. And test number two and subsequent tests are coming up.

And one of those tests is how Egypt handles these weapons that are often smuggled through these underground tunnels at the Rafah crossing and other areas. And, again, early indications are that Egypt wants a credible stature in the international community. They want to economically recover and they realize in many ways that if they're not accountable, if they don't push forth with their promises, they will no longer be recognized the way they are right now.


COOPER: Reza Sayah, appreciate your reporting. We'll continue checking in with you throughout the evening, throughout the afternoon.