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Transcript

Ceasefire in the Middle East?

Rob Sobhani
Adjunct Professor, Georgetown University
Thursday, June 26, 2003; 10:00 AM

Despite talks of a possible ceasefire from militant groups against Israeli civilians, there is still unrest in the Middle East. The Israeli army detained more than 130 Palestinians in an attempt to round up any suicide bombers and those aiding "terrorists" and have also conducted air raids. Palestinian Prime Minister Mahmoud Abbas has been trying to persuade Hamas and other militant groups to call a temporary truce with Israel. Will there truly be a ceasefire of violence in the Middle East?

Georgetown University adjunct professor Rob Sobhani was online Thursday, June 26 at 10 a.m. ET to discuss reports of a possible ceasefire from Islamic militant groups against Israeli civilians.

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The transcript follows.

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San Francisco, Calif.: One serious defect of the Road Map was its failure to require the Palestinian Authority to do something important that it is capable of doing: it should have been required to immediately end the incitement for terrorism and the glorification of "martyrs" in Palestinian textbooks and media. Your comments?

Rob Sobhani: This is a fundamental point that the US Government must address as the road map is implemented. The culture of suicide bombings must end and not glorified. Agree with you on this one.

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College Park, Md.: I am not sure if this cease-fire will hold up or not. But what if it does? The onus falls on Israel to begin dismantling the settlements -- and I am sure the Palestinian militant groups (indeed, Abbas, the PA, and Palestinians in general) will expect ALL of them, not just here and there. Moreover, as sure as the coming tides, terrorism will continue and this will surely develop into right-wing Jewish terrorism/vigilantism (neo-Irgun?, right-wing jewish fundamentalism a la assasination of Rabin?). If people think that overcoming the ceasfire will be the hard part, they are fooling themselves, no?

Rob Sobhani: If the cease-fire holds then the onus will be on both Israel and the Palestinian leaders to contain their more radical fringes.

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Toronto, Canada: Isn't a three-month "ceasefire" just a way for Hamas to reconstitute itself without impediment and then resume terrorism on a larger scale after the three months are up? Why should Israel go along with this if the PA won't spend the time actively disarming these groups?

Rob Sobhani: The main issue is the inability of the Palestinian Prime Minister (who is now a Partner) to take total control of the security apparatus within the West Bank and Gaza. I agree with your position that Hamas' declerations must be viewed with extreme caution.

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Harrisburg, Pa.: If Hamas agrees to a ceasefire, is it more likely because they are considering the prospect of peace, or because they are taking the time to rest and prepare for future attacks?

Rob Sobhani: I think that the new Palestinian PM has made it clear to Hamas and others that violence must end if Palestinians are to have their own state. Whether Hamas sees it this way is still not clear.

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Gullsgate, Minn.: Sharon's "14 reservations" or rumble strips laid down -- have they not sufficiently slowed down the "road map" to peace? Do not Sharon's reservations essentially create a scenario of doublespeak in relation to any viable, cooperative initiative? Is Sharon the man for the job here considering his past record of abuse?
Is it not time for Sharon to step down in order to achieve a permanant peace? Thank you for your insight.

Rob Sobhani: PM Sharon's past does suggest that he is a more aggressive politician vis a vis the Palestinian issue (as opposed to the late PM Rabin for example). However, he was elected in a democratic process and unless his coaltion government crumbles he will serve as Israel's PM. In the end, the US commitment must be to the people on both sides.

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Arlington, Va.: So, is there a cease-fire agreement or not. I'm confused.

Rob Sobhani: I think from the Palestinian perspective there is but the Israeli side remains skeptical. Certainly, the Egyptians believe that they have secured a Hamas cease-fire.

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Silver Spring, Md.: Why don't the Palestinians try to use the model of Ghandi and protest the occupation non-violently. They are not winning any friends with suicide bombings.

Rob Sobhani: Some Palestinian intellectual have made this argument...that the Palestinians lost the moral high ground by suicide bombings.

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Washington, D.C.: It would seem both sides should be responsible for ending the culture of suicide bombings. Are there clear steps each side could take to move in this direction?

Rob Sobhani: Unfortunately, the cycle of violence, and deep seated hatred and suspicion permeates the existing dynamic. Senator Lugar's idea of NATO may break this cycle.

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Toronto, Ontario, Canada: Things always seem managable when discussing contours of a final settlement in vague and ambiguous language.Roadblocks always arise when it gets down to specifics and the i's have to be dotted and the t's crossed.Do you believe there is a way to overcome this problem?

Rob Sobhani: Recent history (the Dayton Accord) suggests that the US can make the road map work but it will require constant attention.

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Falls Church, Va.: The road map calls for a Palestinian state by 2005 -- do you think this is a realistic expectation?

Rob Sobhani: It is in the US national security interest that a Palestinian state be created by 2005 as envisioned by the road map. The entire dynamic in the Arab world is driven by this single issue.

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Wheaton, Md.: Isn't it true that Hamas, PLO and Hezbullah are commited to the complete destruction of Israel?

Rob Sobhani: Some of the groups you mention have called for the destruction of the state of Israel.

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washingtonpost.com: That was the last question. Thanks to everyone who joined us.

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