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Continuation of Mustafa Barghouti Interview; Yair Lapid Interview; What Should Obama Do in Middle East?

Aired July 24, 2014 - 13:30   ET



WOLF BLITZER, CNN ANCHOR: We're back with Dr. Mustafa Barghouti, the Palestinian parliamentarian.

And I just want to be precise, Dr. Barghouti. Is Hamas and the Palestinian Authority right now, as far as a cease-fire with Israel is concerned, on the same page? Because last week we were hearing differing things from Hamas spokesmen as opposed to Palestinian Authority spokesmen. As far as you know, are they on the same page right now?

DR. MUSTAFA BARGHOUTI, PALESTINIAN PARLIAMENTARIAN & GENERAL SECRETARY, PALESTINE NATIONAL INITIATIVE: Absolutely on the same page, especially after the meeting that took place between President Abbas and the leader of Hamas. There is an overwhelming agreement among all Palestinians, we need the cease-fire more than anybody else. We need the cease-fire to stop the bloodshed, to stop the killing of our children and women. And the Israeli government doesn't want a cease-fire and continues its operation. And as I said, thousands and thousands of people's lives are threatened now. It's reached a point of the Israeli army attacking even the shelters that have the civilians in them, like all of our schools, United Nations schools, then we are witnessing a very serious massacre that is taking place. In addition to that --


BLITZER: You know, Dr. Barghouti --


BLITZER: -- you've heard the Israeli military statement -- sorry for interrupting -- the Israeli military statement is saying they're investigating that incident, that shooting, that killed so many people at that U.N. school, they're suggesting it's possible -- they don't know for sure -- it's possible that it was a Hamas rocket that was launched from Gaza supposedly into Israel but fell short, and it was a Hamas rocket that hit that U.N. school, that U.N. school. You've heard that statement from the IDF, the Israel defense forces.

BARGHOUTI: You know, Wolf, this is a big, fat lie. Now that Palestinians are killed in a shelter, they claim that Palestinians killed Palestinians? Who killed the 781 Palestinians so far in Gaza, including 220 children? Israeli army. Now that they were caught attacking civilians in a shelter where people were forced to stay because they were evacuated from their homes. 300,000 people were pushed out of their homes with gunshots, with bombardment from tanks. And now that the Israeli army attacks a school, they claim that it wasn't them? This is unbelievable. I think the whole -- why does Israel refuse to send a U.N. investigation committee, an independent commission, to investigate? Israel refuses that, because Israel knows that it is committing a war crime in Gaza, and it insists on continuing this war crime, which is really not only killing people but creating such a humanitarian crisis with hundreds of thousands of people have no electricity, have no water, have no shelter, have no way of defending themselves. This area is very small. It's only 140 square miles with about 1.8 million people. And now the Israeli army has practically occupied half of that area and pushing people out of their homes and killing them on the way. These are massacres, and they should be stopped. And that's why we want a cease-fire immediately. Israel was claiming that Palestinians don't want cease- fire. I'm telling you, all of us want cease-fire, and all of us want all issues to be negotiated, including lifting the siege of Gaza, because this siege is an act of aggression.

BLITZER: All right. Dr. Mustafa Barghouti, thanks very much for joining us with that perspective. Dr. Mustafa Barghouti joining us from Ramallah on the West Bank.

Let's get a different perspective now.

Joining us, Yair Lapid, Israel's finance minister, a member of the security cabinet of Prime Minister Netanyahu.

Minister, Lapid, thanks for joining us.


BLITZER: I want to get your immediate reaction. We heard Dr. Barghouti saying they're on the same page, they want a five-day cease- fire, but Israel refuses to do so. That's their claim. You say?

LAPID: I say that -- we have said yes to a cease-fire a week ago, and they've declined. And then they had two humanitarian cease-fires. In both cases, Hamas used them to shoot at civilians and try to kill Israeli women and children. So before we are talking about cease- fire, we should talk about the fact that, how can we stop Hamas from killing not only our children, not only our people, but also their people because they are in charge of what is happening right now in Gaza?

BLITZER: So is it true, though, that they're ready to accept a five- day humanitarian cease-fire, but Israel is not?

LAPID: No, what they are saying -- they didn't say they are accepting it. They just said Israel is not accepting it.

BLITZER: Is Israel accepting it?

LAPID: Israel is going to talk about it with all proper authorities, with the United Nations, with the U.N. But first and foremost, Hamas cannot expect us to stand still while they're shooting at us, while they're trying to take the tunnels underneath houses of civilians, trying to kill and kidnap Israeli citizens. And you know what? There are more than 3,000 rockets that were fired upon Israel in the past three weeks. What other country in the world will stand for this? Of course, we cannot say, OK, and whenever they want to plug it in, they want to plug it out, on their own timing. Now they want five days to rearrange the army to make sure they have ability to fire at us again. Then this is not a humanitarian cease-fire. This is them trying to sabotage the whole process. We said yes to the Egyptian offer a week ago or 10 days ago, and they have declined. So they have to answer the questions.

BLITZER: So this most recent incident today, this U.N. school, this shelter, are you familiar with it? Because I spoke to Lieutenant Colonel Peter Lerner, the spokesman for the IDF, and he says they're investigating the Israeli military.


BLITZER: It's an awful incident. A lot of civilians killed. They were seeking refuge there. He's raising the possibility, the military, the Israeli military, this could have been a Hamas rocket. You're a member of the inner security cabinet. What have you heard about this incident?

LAPID: Well, you know what? Unlike Mustafa Barghouti, we don't have the privilege of knowing everything about it. This is the exact difference between a functional democracy and somebody who's just dealing with propaganda and trying to gain P.R. points. As far as we know -- there's one thing we do know. From this area, they were shooting at Israeli soldiers. And they used schools, as they did before, as a storage for rockets, and also as a basis to fire at the Israeli soldiers. The secretary-general of the U.N., not an Israeli, he says when Hamas is using schools as storage for rockets and firing at soldiers from schools, then he's the one to be blamed for all the killings that happened as circumstances of this.

BLITZER: So you're investigating it?


LAPID: Yes, of course, we're investigating it, as every proper democracy would under the circumstances.

BLITZER: You're the finance minister. I read in one of the Israeli newspapers that Israel has lost about $200 million over the past few weeks because of lack of tourism, that 36-hour ban on U.S. flights coming in and out of Israel. How much of an economic setback has this been for Israel?

LAPID: Well, we are a strong economy. We have sustained successes in the past few years. We can stand this, and we can stand a much longer operation.

BLITZER: You welcome the decision by the U.S. Federal Aviation Administration to reinstate flights to Israel? That was a major setback to Israel.

LAPID: Yes, it was. And it was wrong.


BLITZER: It was a win for Hamas, right?

LAPID: Listen, LAX is ten times more dangerous than the Israeli Ben Gurion Airport.

BLITZER: How can you say that?

LAPID: Because the traffic there is so big comparing to us.

BLITZER: But there are no rockets flying around LAX.


LAPID: There are no rockets flying around the Ben Gurion airport.

BLITZER: There was one --


LAPID: There was one that landed more than a mile away. Listen, the minute we presented the FAA with the details and the facts of the matter, they say, OK, you can go back and fly there. It's totally safe to fly to Israel, and I recommend it, by the way, to everyone who wants to come in.

BLITZER: But you know the State Department issued a travel advisory saying that all nonessential trips to Israel and the West Bank, for that matter, should be avoided right now.

LAPID: Well, I understand the American point, but I'm telling you, people feel pretty safe here. We know what we're doing. It's the time of a military operation. Of course, there are hazards, but basically, we -- to fly to -- there's no problem flying into Israel.

BLITZER: So you're sticking by that statement that LAX is more dangerous than Ben Gurion Airport?

LAPID: This after being a few times to LAX, yet. I hope I didn't offend people.


BLITZER: No, I think they know about their own airport.

BLITZER: I fly into LAX all the time and I feel pretty good, but --

LAPID: You should all feel pretty good when you fly over here.

BLITZER: Mr. Lapid, thanks for joining us.

LAPID: Thank you. BLITZER: Thank you very much.

Yair Lapid is the minister of finance of Israel.

Coming up, as the situation in the Middle East escalates, many people around the world are looking to the United States for some guidance, for some leadership. Our political panel, back in Washington, getting ready to weigh in on what President Obama should be doing next.


BLITZER: Welcome back. President Obama now on a west coast tour. It's a fundraising swing to help Democrats in the midterm elections. The White House has certainly taken some criticism from Republicans, even some Democrats, who say the president should be back in Washington right now dealing with the escalating crises in Ukraine and the Middle East and elsewhere around the world.

Let's bring in our chief political analyst, Gloria Borger. She's in Washington. Our senior political analyst, David Gergen, he's in San Francisco. And joining us from Aspen, Colorado, the former Democratic congresswoman, Jane Harman. She's now president and CEO of the Wilson Center in Washington, D.C.

Guys, thanks very much for joining us.

Gloria, how does it look for the president of the United States to be doing all this fundraising, traveling around, when there are so many of these global crises going on right now?

GLORIA BORGER, CNN CHIEF POLITICAL ANALYST: Look, Wolf, we're not seeing a lot of pictures of the president, and there's a reason, because they know that if we were to see pictures, if the press were to be let in to see the president hobnobbing with people who are giving an awful lot of money to the Democratic party -- which, by the way, he ought to be raising. There's an upcoming midterm election -- that he would be criticized for it, which is why the press is being kept at arm's length. We don't see a lot of these pictures. We don't get the access that I think the press would like to have because they understand the optics are important. Which is why they're also taking pains to tell us that he's constantly in touch with the secretary of state, John Kerry, that if he has to fly back to Washington, he will fly back to Washington. But it's always this kind of delicate balance you have to strike when you don't want to seem, as president, that you're panicking, but you also don't want to seem disengaged or out of touch. And I think they're having a little bit of trouble with that right now.

BLITZER: David, the new CNN/ORC poll shows the president's job approval rating at about 42 percent right now, basically unchanged since March. That's not a great number by any means. How does the number, though, on foreign policy problems that the White House is dealing with, affect the view of the public at large as how the president is doing? Because he doesn't get good numbers on foreign policy either. DAVID GERGEN, CNN SENIOR POLITICAL ANALYST: Well, that's right, Wolf.

And I think those numbers on foreign policy, 55 percent disapproval, actually underscore the fact that what I think this fundraising effort -- while it's understandable, other presidents have done it -- I think it's a political mistake. You know, the old saying the best policies make the best politics, and right now I think if the president were back in Washington at the Oval Office, sort of masterminding the U.S. approach to these foreign policy crises, he would get more approval on the foreign policy side. And that, in turn, would help him with the midterms. What he needs to do is get his overall approval ratings up for midterm purposes, and these fundraisers don't do it. Acting presidential and leading from Washington would help.

BLITZER: Because, Jane, as you know, it's not just here in Israel and Gaza, between the Israelis and Hamas. If you take a look at the entire region, whether in Syria, where the slaughter continues, Iraq, which is falling apart, Afghanistan, there's so much uncertainty after so much U.S. blood, sweat and tears went into trying to develop that country. Libya right now, a disaster. You see U.S./Russian relations in such deep trouble. I don't remember a time when we've seen so many chaotic world crises right now. Should the president be out doing the fundraising now, or should he be back in Washington?

JANE HARMAN, PRESIDENT & CEO, WOODROW WILSON CENTER: Well, I'm here, as you know, Wolf -- you were supposed to be here, too -- at the Aspen Security Forum where a lot of national security types are here discussing those issues. What I can tell you is a lot of Americans care intensely about this. The polling doesn't seem to show it, but Americans are tuned in, not just inside the bubble in Washington. There are many crises that you left off like the collapse of the coalition in Ukraine just today. I think that is a catastrophe.


BLITZER: Jane, hold on a second. I think we've just lost your audio as well.

We lost Dr. Barghouti's in Ramallah. We lost Jane's audio in Aspen, Colorado. We'll get back to Jane. We'll get back to Gloria, get back to David.

We'll take a quick break. More of what the president of the United States should be doing right now, right after this.


BLITZER: We're back with our panel, Gloria Borger, David Gergen, and Jane Harman.

And, Jane, we lost your audio a moment ago. But I was asking, should the president be out doing all this fundraising when so much of the world seems to be in crisis right now?

HARMAN: Well, as you know, the Wilson Center is a nonpartisan place. But I know that Americans are tuned into foreign policy, because I'm here in Aspen at this security forum, which you cancelled, Wolf, understandably, because you're in one of the mainly hot spots in the world that we all care about. So I hope he's -- I'm assuming he's focused on it.

John Kerry is back in the region. He should be there. He's trying to help broker a ceasefire. But it has to be on terms that will end this horror here. And if Hamas continues to fire rockets, that's not a predicate for a cease fire.

I just want to mention one other thing. Since I am from Los Angeles, I want Minister Lapid, in Israel, to know that LAX is a very safe airport. I did represent it for 17 years and I live nearby, right now.

BLITZER: He says LAX is more dangerous flying in and out of because of the traffic there, as opposed to Ben Gurion --

HARMAN: Not so much.

BLITZER: -- outside of Tel Aviv.

And I asked and pressed him on it, and he was not backing away from that. Aviation experts can debate that down the road.

Gloria, what should the president be doing right now? He's got all these issues. He's about to enter his last two years in office. Sometimes people are accusing him already of sort of tuning out. I think that's unfair. But what about that?

BORGER: Well, look, I think not only does the president to have been engaged, which I presume he is. Nobody has ever accused this president of being disengaged. The point is that the American public has to believe that he is engaged and that he is trying actively to settle these problems and that he's a strong leader. And if you look at our CNN polling, he's been suffering on that point, because more than half of the American people now do not consider him a strong and decisive leader. So that's his problem, whether it's on foreign policy, whether it's on domestic policy, and, of course, the two interact. Now he's got all these crises that overlap. The enemy of my enemy is my friend in many of these situations, and so it's very complex. And nobody doubts that the president understands the complexities of it. But his problem is that you have to kind of talk to the American people about it. And you also have to talk to congressional leaders about it. And this is where I think he fails.

BLITZER: Congress is about to go to vacation, recess, right now, David. I don't know who is -- who the president is going to be talking to the next few weeks.

BORGER: There's a phone.

GERGEN: He needs to be talking to his team and to foreign leaders. It came out yesterday, he hasn't had a talk to the head of Turkey since February or something like that.

But Wolf, I think the question here is not only about how the president might be more effective and be more reassuring to the country, but there are also questions now about John Kerry. The secretary of state needs help. You know, the deputy press secretary of the White House put out a list, a couple days ago, saying here's where John Kerry has been engaged, and in the Middle East on the Gaza issue. It was 10 different countries and international institutions he's been engaged with. That doesn't even include Ukraine, the problems there, the fires in Afghanistan, Syria, Iraq, Iran. The secretary of state, in order to be effective, cannot do this alone. He needs a very, very strong team. He lost his negotiator, his chief negotiator, Martin Indyk, in the Middle East. He needs someone like that, a Dennis Ross-type figure. And Jane and Gloria know Dennis so well. There are other people. He needs a team around him who can go to these places, represent him, and then he can -- he and the president can help run things.

BLITZER: I'm going to ask all three of you to stay with us.

One more break. We'll be right back.


BLITZER: Hearses arriving in the Netherlands. Very, very sad. People have gathered. This is really bringing the Netherlands, the Dutch, closer and closer together as these hearses arrive carrying these bodies, showing great respect for what happened. Who could believe, who could believe what has happened. Look at these, car after -- vehicle after vehicle after vehicle, carrying these -- carrying these bodies back. They will now -- as Dr. Sanjay Gupta told us a little while ago, they will all have to go through extensive examination, forensic examination, autopsies, to try to determine the identities as best as they can, because this was not only an awful, awful situation that went down, but an awful situation right now. Let's just listen for a second.