Israel may reoccupy Gaza

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Osamah Khalil: The crisis could escalate

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Story Transcript

ZAA NKWETA, PRESENTER: Following a dramatic escalation of violence in Gaza, in which reportedly over 120 Palestinians were killed, US Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice visited the region in what observers call an attempt to salvage Mideast peace talks. Mideast observers noted Rice’s refusal to use the word “ceasefire” in the ongoing crisis between Israel and Hamas, calling into question whether the deadlock would be solved by a negotiated ceasefire or by other means. The Real News spoke to Osamah Khalil in Cairo.

VOICE OF OSAMAH KHALIL: There is a brief lull in the fighting. Israel has said that it will hold off on further incursions into Gaza until after her visit. The Palestinian president, Mahmoud Abbas, has halted negotiations with Israel because of the fighting over the past six days. And it is hoped that these negotiations will restart, but it is unclear at this moment.

NKWETA: Now, Abbas has also changed his tune over the weekend. He said that the talks were suspended, and then on Monday he also said that he was willing to seek a truce. Is the situation reached a point where we can see the train coming off the tracks here?

KHALIL: This is largely a political maneuver on Abbas’ part. Abbas came under heavy criticism in January from Palestinians and from the broader Arab world during the last escalation, which coincided with President Bush’s visit to the region. He wasn’t about to make the same mistake twice, in particular because there were large-scale protests over the weekend in support of Gaza in the West Bank. And, of course, the West Bank is controlled by Abbas and his Fatah faction, and Gaza has been under Hamas’ control since June 2007. So this is largely a political maneuver on his part. It’s also in a way some of the little political leverage and negotiating leverage he has with the Israelis. He is unable, essentially, to engage in meaningful negotiations if Israel’s going to continue to conduct large, massive incursions and attacks into Gaza with a heavy death toll.

NKWETA: At the same time, I’ve also heard that in Rice’s visit to Egypt, she also approved the allotment of US$1 billion for Egypt to fight militant extremism. How does this play into the geopolitics of the region?

KHALIL: Well, it probably has to do again with Egypt attempting to play this middle role. Egypt of course gets a lot of foreign aid from the United States, again, is a signatory to the peace treaty with Israel, and it’s come under a lot of criticism for [what] the United States and Israel see as its inability to control the tunnel traffic into Gaza, whether it be black market weapons or of other needed supplies. This also occurred when Hamas blew the wall down last month. This is an attempt, again, to kind of strengthen Egypt’s control of the border and in a way sidestep Hamas and Hamas’ demands for joint patrols of the border with the Palestinian president, Mahmoud Abbas.

NKWETA: Is this thing coming to a head, where we would see the reoccupation of Gaza by Israel?

KHALIL: I think we could be seeing that eventuality very soon. In a sense what we’re seeing is the culmination of Israel and the United States’ policy. Since Hamas won the legislative elections in 2006, and particular since its takeover of Gaza in 2007, they’ve been unable to make the siege and sanctions regime imposed on Gaza since the election, since the takeover, they’ve been unable to make that work; and they’ve been unable to have Hamas be unseated from power. And so what I think we’re actually seeing now is full military force to be used to do such a thing. It is unclear whether it’ll happen in the next week or the next month, but I’m afraid that’s actually what we’re looking at. And that seems to be the rhetoric that’s coming out of Israel, and it seems to be what the United States wants as well.

NKWETA: Now, you’re in Egypt right now, you’re in Cairo. What is the sentiment there in the Arab world?

KHALIL: [On] the satellite channels it’s been almost nonstop coverage of the carnage over the past six days in Gaza. It’s difficult to describe the level of anger and anxiety that you see. There’s a deep anxiety and deep frustration with the lack of attention to the peace process from the Bush administration and at the lack of movement in terms of negotiations. And largely they’re undermining by Israel in terms of its expansion of the settlements in the West Bank and in East Jerusalem since November, as well as its constant incursions not just into Gaza, where, as Israel claims there’s rocket fire coming from, but into the West Bank, where on an almost daily basis there are constant incursions.

NKWETA: Israel said that it would step up the incursion if there were continued attacks from Gaza into Israel.

KHALIL: The Israeli press is reporting that there are plans being made or there are plans that will be put into effect for what could be a massive re-invasion or re-occupation of Gaza. The Israeli foreign minister, Tzipi Livni, has been speaking to other world leaders and has been warning them of that case. There’s been a lot of rhetoric emanating from the Israeli government towards Gaza over the past six days, and particularly the past 48 hours, that this is not over, and that it will escalate.

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