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Monday, July 03, 2006

Analysts Stake Predictions

The World Today - Monday, 3 July , 2006 12:14:00

Reporter: Eleanor Hall

ELEANOR HALL: One Middle East analyst is predicting that there could be a breakthrough in the Egyptian brokered negotiations over the release of the Israeli soldier within hours.

But when he spoke to me earlier today, the Chair of Middle Eastern Studies at the Sarah Lawrence College in New York, Professor Fawaz Gerges, was also warning that if that doesn't happen the conflict could spin out of control.

(To Fawaz Geerges) Professor Gerges, Israel's intensified its attacks in Gaza overnight. The Hamas Government is threatening to sink Israel in a sea of blood. I mean, tensions have been very high since Hamas was elected, but just how serious is this situation now?

FAWAZ GERGES: I think the kidnapping of the Israeli soldier and the subsequent Israeli offensive into Gaza has really increased tension considerably. I think the Palestinian-Israeli conflict is spinning out of control, with potential spillover effects into neighbouring Arab states. This is on the political level.

On the humanitarian level, I mean, I think human rights groups are warning of a major humanitarian crisis in Gaza, in the Palestinian territories.

What Israel has done really is to basically carry out a collective punishment policy against the entire Palestinian population.

Regardless of what we think of what the Palestinian fighters, guerrillas, militants did, I think this particular policy of collective punishment of the Palestinian population does not help the long-term prospects of a Palestinian-Israeli peace settlement.

I think it enrages and angers the Palestinian population, it mobilises Arab and Muslim population worldwide against Israel and American foreign policy.

So I think what Israel is doing basically could be very counterproductive for its long-term, at least, coexistence with the Palestinian population.

ELEANOR HALL: Israel's Deputy Prime Minister has now said that Israel will now prosecute the Palestinian officials it captured, essentially.

What was your reaction when you heard Israel had arrested one third of the Palestinian Cabinet?

FAWAZ GERGES: Well, again, what Israel has done is to basically say there is no difference between the political leadership of Hamas and the military leadership of Hamas.

And this goes to the very heart of the Palestinian-Israeli dilemma. This is why I think what Israel has done now is to really rally Palestinian public support for Hamas.

ELEANOR HALL: What the Israeli Government is saying, as you mentioned, is that it doesn't believe the Hamas Government when the Hamas Government says it was not involved in the kidnapping.

Do you believe the Hamas Government when it says that?

FAWAZ GERGES: Yes, I believe there are major differences within Hamas. Hamas is not a monolith. There is what I call the internal leadership that exists within the Palestinian Authority in Gaza and the West Bank and East Jerusalem, and there is the external leadership that basically exists in Damascus, Syria and Amman and other places.

And I think that in fact, Haniyeh, Ismail Haniyeh, the Palestinian Prime Minister, was reportedly surprised that a major operation against an Israeli... the Israeli military was carried out without his knowledge.

ELEANOR HALL: Well, Ehud Olmert has warned that Israel may also target members of the Hamas Government. How is that likely to be received in Gaza, and within the international community?

FAWAZ GERGES: The Israeli Prime Minister and the Israeli leadership have made it very clear that all Hamas leaders are vulnerable to assassination.

In the Arab and Muslim world there has been a public outcry against the Israeli policy. On many levels this particular crisis has played directly into the hands of the Hamas leadership and the Hamas Government in Palestine.

ELEANOR HALL: In this context, what is the likelihood of the Egyptian negotiations succeeding?

FAWAZ GERGES: Well, I think there is a likelihood that the Israeli soldier, the kidnapped Israeli soldier, could be released very soon. I mean, remember, both sides are trying to maximise their negotiating position. The Palestinians are saying: "We will release the Israeli soldier. We will trade the Israeli soldier for Palestinian prisoners."

So there is negotiation taking place and I believe that unless Israel really decides to escalate its incursion, its offensive in Gaza, and kill Hamas leaders, I think it's a matter of hours or days that the Israeli soldier could be released (inaudible)...

ELEANOR HALL: Well, Israeli Government has said it won't release Palestinian prisoners, so what will be the negotiating points?

FAWAZ GERGES: Well, the negotiating point will be a promise by the Israeli leadership to President Mubarak, Egyptian President Mubarak, that we will take into account your point about future release of Palestinian prisoners.

I think Israel releases dozens, or 50 or so Palestinian prisoners, every once in a while. I believe that this could serve as a negotiating strategy.

ELEANOR HALL: And that's Professor Fawaz Gerges, the Chair of Middle Eastern and International Studies at Sarah Lawrence College in New York. His latest book is Journey of the Jihadists

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