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Israel/Hamas Cease-Fire Talks Under Way; Israel Security Minister Gives Cease-Fire Assessment; Reuters Reports Israel Rejects Latest Cease-Fire Proposal.
Aired July 25, 2014 - 13:30 ET
THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.
WOLF BLITZER, CNN HOST: Welcome back to our viewers in the United States and around the world. I'm Wolf Blitzer, reporting from Jerusalem.
Crucial peace negotiations are going on right now in Egypt and elsewhere to try to end the fighting in Gaza. Conflict, though, seems to be escalating by the day. The Secretary of State John Kerry and the U.N.'s Ban Ki-moon is expected to hold a news conference in Cairo to reveal whether the Israelis and Palestinians have agreed at least to a one-week humanitarian cease-fire which would start on Sunday.
Joining us now from Washington is Michael O'Hanlon, a senior fellow in foreign policy with the Brookings Institute.
Michael, I don't know if you heard the top of the hour when I interviewed the minister of intelligence for Israel, Yuval Steinitz, who just came to CNN from the inner security cabinet meeting. I asked him if a cease-fire looked good. He says it doesn't seem close. His words, "a cease-fire doesn't seem close." I had been pretty upbeat it was going to happen. Now I'm increasingly downbeat that it doesn't look like it's going to happen. What's your sense based on what you know?
MICHAEL O'HANLON, SENIOR FELLOW IN FOREIGN POLICY, THE BROOKINGS INSTITUTE: Well, Wolf, the other thing I would add is the op-ed in "The Washington Post" by Michael Oren, the former Israeli ambassador to the United States who basically said we have to let the Israelis do what they have to do and defeat Hamas. Essentially, implied a widening of the war or a prolongation. So when you recognize his closeness to a lot of key Israeli decision makers, because he was ambassador, I believe, for Netanyahu, I think you've got to get that signals the likelihood of an extended campaign, at least in the eyes of what that former ambassador believes should happen. Netanyahu is going to be weighing other considerations. If I had to put my money on this, I would say I think it may continue a while longer.
BLITZER: Yeah, that's what it certainly sounds like to me. My senses, based on my private conversations here in Jerusalem with top Israelis, they don't want to do anything that would reward Hamas and let Hamas emerge from a cease-fire as if they had won in this battle with Israel. That's one of the problems the Israelis see, especially since they don't trust Qatar at all in the role it's playing. My sense is they're going to continue this military campaign and try to destroy as much of Hamas's military capability as they can. That could undermine a bit the U.S. relationship with Israel because it looks like Kerry is ready to accept this kind of temporary cease-fire. Give me your analysis.
O'HANLON: Well, I think you're right, but I think also one more factor, which unfortunately points to what you and I were talking about a minute ago, is Israel sometimes feels with Hamas or Hezbollah, it can't really defeat them military, it can't really disarm them military. All it cab do is buy some time. At the same moment it's doing that, send a very strong message. You know, basically don't mess with Israel because if you do, you and your people will suffer more than we will. And that was of course much of the spirit of the air campaign a few years ago against Hezbollah in Lebanon, where Israel was seen as extending the war and broadening the war. And part of its purpose was not just to weaken Hezbollah's rocketry, but also to send a message to Hezbollah's supporters, if you support this group, your neighborhoods will be damaged. It wasn't a deliberate attack on civilians but it certainly was a willingness to hurt the infrastructure and set back the economy in Lebanon, and I think that's some of the same thing with what Israel's doing now in the Gaza Strip.
BLITZER: If Secretary of State Kerry, who's now in Cairo, getting ready to make some sort of statement, if he says, look, I've tried, unfortunately, we haven't yet achieved a cease-fire, in the meantime, I'm flying back to Washington, what would that say about U.S. Influence, U.S. Authority in this part of the world where I am, which is the Middle East?
O'HANLON: Well, Wolf, you know, I'm frankly less concerned about what he does this moment than I am about the fact the peace process failed. On the one hand, that's not news. It's been failing for decades between Israelis and Palestinians. So there's nothing about America's supposed decline right now that's changing that because it's been a reality for a long time. On the other hand, when you compound that with all the other crises in the region, it certainly does send a broader message. The last thing the U.S. needs right now is yet another appearance of a fecklessness.
Let's remind the world and your viewers that Secretary Kerry just had a nice accomplish innocent in Afghanistan and I think also we're doing pretty well in Asia. And so in the rest of the world at least the United States is still showing some pretty good influence and leadership. But I take your point. In regard to the Gaza crisis right now, I'm not sure the United States has the levers to make this happen.
BLITZER: You're right about those other places around the world. Here in the Middle East, you see what's going on, obviously, between Israel and Hamas and Gaza, you see what's continuing, the slaughter in Syria, basically the dismantling of Iraq, what's going on with Iran. There's a lot of problems in this part of the world. Libya in total chaos. At least in the Middle East, North Africa, big chunks of it, there's a crisis that needs to be resolved one way or another. Let's hope it can be.
Michael O'Hanlon, back in Washington, see you soon back there. Thanks very much for joining us.
O'HANLON: Thank you.
BLITZER: Coming up, so will the FAA, the Federal Aviation Administration, once again ban U.S. flights to Tel Aviv? Carriers still have the OK for now but the FAA closely watching the situation at Ben Gurion Airport outside of Tel Aviv. We have a report from Washington next.
BLITZER: Welcome back. I'm Wolf Blitzer, reporting from Jerusalem.
We heard from Israel's minister of intelligence, Yuval Steinitz, and I asked him if negotiations designed to achieve a one-week cease-fire for humanitarian purposes put forward by Secretary of State John Kerry, who's now in Cairo, could be accepted by Israel, and he gave us this assessment. Listen to Israel's intelligence minister who had just emerged from that inner security cabinet meeting to join us. Listen to this.
BLITZER: How close are Israel and Hamas through the work of the United States and others to a cease-fire?
YUVAL STEINITZ, ISRAELI MINISTER OF INTELLIGENCE: It doesn't seem close at all. Hamas and Qatar want a cease-fire that will legitimize terrorism, will legitimize armament of Gaza, and actually will legitimize, under certain conditions, launching rockets at Israeli civilians. One thing is clear, terrorism shouldn't be a peace and there should be no price for terrorism for launching rockets on Israeli civilians.
BLITZER: Sounds to me, Minister, correct me if I'm wrong, the deliberations Prime Minister Netanyahu and you and your other ministers have been having, it doesn't sound likely that this latest proposal for a one-week cease-fire is something Israel is going to accept?
STEINITZ: Israel was ready in the past and will be ready in the future if necessary to make a cease-fire. Israel was ready to accept the Egyptian proposal. It was rejected by Hamas. But one thing is clear. Any target, the goal should be a real enduring cease-fire and security to the people of Israel, also to the people of Gaza. In order to achieve this, you have to demilitarize Gaza. Gaza was supposed to be totally demilitarized. This was a commitment signed on the White House lawn 20 years ago that Gaza will remain forever demilitarized. It was captured by organizations similar to al Qaeda or ISIS in Iraq. And now Gaza should be demilitarized again. Otherwise, there will be no real solution to the situation.
BLITZER: What about a one-week temporary humanitarian cease-fire? That seems to be on the table, phase one. And then all of these other issues could be discussed subsequently?
BLITZER: So you get the point. He makes the point, in response to that other question that I just asked, that Israel is not going to reward Hamas and certainly does not like the additional conditions that Qatar has put forward as part of this interim deal.
Let's bring in Elise Labott, our global affairs correspondent.
Elise, it doesn't look good for the secretary of state. He and Ban Ki-moon, the U.N. secretary-general, are about to make a major statement in Cairo. Based on what we heard from this Israeli cabinet minister, who joined us right from that inner security cabinet meeting, doesn't look like the Israelis are going along with this deal.
ELISE LABOTT, CNN GLOBAL AFFAIRS CORRESPONDENT: Well, Wolf, I think you have to separate the idea of this one-week humanitarian truce. If you remember, I think later last week or earlier this week there was, you know, a very temporary lull in the fighting so that both sides could get humanitarian supplies into Gaza, so that some of the dead could be cleared out of the rubble. There's a real humanitarian situation going on on the ground right now. I think both sides want a stop to fighting. Clearly, Israel has other objectives here. The larger issue of demilitarizing Hamas, that's not even on the table. Secretary of State Kerry is trying to get the one-week truce. And sources are telling me they hope that could be the opening to some of the Israeli demands and the Palestinian demands on the easing of the border crossings, but also on the Israeli side about the demilitarization that the minister is talking about.
BLITZER: We're just getting this in from Reuters News Agency, Elise. Reuters now saying that the Israeli cabinet has rejected this proposal for this cease-fire put forward, put forward by Secretary of State John Kerry. The proposal put forward by Kerry. But they are seeking additional modifications in the proposal. So it might not necessarily be the last word. The proposal put forward, Reuters said, by Kerry last night in his phone conversation with Prime Minister Netanyahu, looks like the cabinet is rejecting that. But they're leaving the door open, according to this Reuters account, seeing how far they can go. Maybe this is still a work in progress, Elise, and maybe Secretary Kerry is not yet ready to make a major statement. But go ahead, you've covered him for a long time.
LABOTT: Well, one of the things that I --
BLITZER: I think we just lost our connection with Elise. She's at our national security conference in Aspen, Colorado. We'll try to reconnect with her, try to follow up on this report. We'll get more information.
We're staying on top of the breaking news. Will there or won't there be a cease-fire between Israel and Hamas? We'll be right back.
(COMMERCIAL BREAK) BLITZER: Recapping the breaking news we are following here in Jerusalem. Reuters now quoting sources as saying the Israeli cabinet meeting in emergency session has rejected the latest proposals for a cease-fire, and is asking for additional modifications. The proposals put forward by Secretary of State John Kerry, who is getting ready to make a statement in Cairo with Ban Ki-moon, the U.N. secretary- general.
Earlier, we heard from one of the top cabinet ministers in Israel, the minister of intelligence telling us when I asked if the cease-fire looks good, "it doesn't seem close." That's a direct quote, "It doesn't seem close." We are waiting for an official statement from the Israeli government. Once we get that, we will share it. We are waiting for Secretary Kerry to make a statement in Cairo.
Meantime, Federal Aviation Administration in Washington is closely monitoring the overall security situation at Tel Aviv and may change the ban on flights coming in and out.
Our justice correspondent, Pamela Brown, is joining us from Washington.
Pamela, what are U.S. Officials telling you?
PAMELA BROWN, CNN JUSTICE CORRESPONDENT: Officials are keeping a close eye on what's going on in Tel Aviv, Wolf. We are learning as soon as the ban was put in place Tuesday, intense discussions were under way among the FAA with Israel. Over the course of that time, Israel was able to share more information about airport defenses to convince U.S. officials it would be safe for flights to resume. At the same time, Israel adjusted protocols and procedures at the request of the U.S. So, Wolf, officials we have been speaking with say after weighing the information it had, the FAA lifted the ban 36 hours after it was imposed. That said, the FAA will closely monitor the situation and reissue the flying ban to Tel Aviv if conditions warrant -- Wolf?
BLITZER: If the conditions warrant. Key words, "If conditions warrant."
Right now, travel to and from the airport, flights coming in and going out almost back to front it will take awhile to get back to normal.
Pamela Brown, thanks for that report.
When we come back, more on the breaking news out of Israel. Will there be a cease-fire or won't there be a cease-fire? It is looking increasingly unlikely at least for now.
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BLITZER: That's it for me. Thanks for watching.
Our special breaking news coverage of the search for a cease-fire between Israel and Hamas continues now with Brooke Baldwin.