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PostGlobal: Who's to Blame for Gaza, Lebanon?

Daoud Kattab, Yossi Melman
Daoud Kattab, Yossi Melman

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Daoud Kuttab and Yossi Melman
Palestinian Journalist and Israeli Commentator
Wednesday, July 12, 2006; 12:00 PM

Palestinian journalist Daoud Kuttab and Israeli commentator Yossi Melman were online Wednesday, July 12, at noon ET to debate who's at fault and what should happen in Gaza, which the Israeli military has partly re-occupied in response to the kidnapping of one of its soldiers.

The transcript follows.

Yossi Melman is a senior commentator for the Israeli daily Haaretz. He specializes in intelligence, security, terrorism and strategic issues. An author of seven books on these topics he is now writing (with Meir Javedanfar ) a book on Iran's President and his desire for nuclear weapons to be published next spring in the U.S.

Daoud Kuttab is a Palestinian journalist. He was born in Jerusalem in 1955. He is the director of the Institute of Modern Media at Al Quds University in Ramallah, and he is the founder and general director of AmmanNet, the Arab world's first Internet radio station.

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Daoud Kuttab:

After fifty years of fighting, Palestinians and Israelis seem to have finally found the one thing that can really get the other side really angry. This became crystal clear this week as Israelis went brezerq because of their inability to return their captured soldier and ordinary Palestinians felt completely helpless to stop the crimes of war in the form of collective punishments that Israel has meted against them. Palestinians and Israelis have more polarized this past two weeks than at any time that I can recall.

Talk to an average well educated Israeli or a like minded Palestinian (this writer included) and you will get entirely opposite points of view, narrated passionately. What is it that makes each side blinded to understand the other? Why are we unable to have any empathy for the other?

One of the answers to this dilemma must be in attitudes to individualism versus collectivism. Israelis like many in the west give priority to the individual over the collective. At times this laudable defense of the individual, goes too far, and becomes an obsession. No logical explanation can defend the Israeli attacks in Gaza that has cost tens of Palestinian lives, cost the Israelis a public relations black eye and in the end unlikely to bring about the return of the captured Israeli.

Palestinians on the other hand while not as vulnerable regarding individual rights have a strong collective feeling that makes very angry when they are targeted as a group, as a collective. When thousands of Palestinians who were caught outside the Gaza strip when the present cycle began feel that preventing all of them to return is a form of a collective punishment and therefore drives Palestinians crazy. Blowing up bridges, powder plants, preventing the entire Palestinian civil servants from being paid, angers Palestinians who seem in that a violation of the large family, community, tribe the nation. As if saying that Palestinians would be willing to accept violations of individuals but when they are punished as a collective, they are unable to accept that as legitimate.

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Yossi Melman: Thanks for having me here. I am looking forward for the debate with Daoud. I have a great respect for him as a journalist and commentator.

What we see today are two separated developments which are linked. The events in Gaza which are going on for nearly three weeks are a matter of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. They can and should be resolved by a dialogue and negotiations which will require concessions non both sides. While the incident in Lebanon is a very clear and simple one. The Hezbollah which is an armed militia operating within a sovereign state attacked today Israeli positions and kidnapped the soldiers. But doing so hey violated an UN sponsored agreement of a cease fire. In general what we in Israel witness is he more our government is ready to make concessions - withdrawal from Gaza and a few years ago from Lebanon Israel; is subjected to attacks by militants which refuse to recognize its right to exit as both the Hamas and Hezboallah maintain

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Amsterdam, Netherlands: Isn't, after the agreement between Hamas and the PA president, the Hamas armed wing effectively controlled by Syria? Is Hamas still one organisation or only nominally so, and isn't Syria attacking Israel on two fronts now through its proxy armies?

Yossi Melman: Hamas is not fully controlled by Syria. Hamas is divided between its much more radical leadership based in Syria led by Haled Mashal and its more moderate leaders operating in Gaza and the West Bank and led BY Premier Ismail Haniye. Syria has a certain influence on Hezbollah less now than when the Syrian army was positioned in Lebanon. But the Iranians are those who pulling the strings of Hezbollah. Yet one has to be honest to face the reality that Hez. is basically a Lebanese group whose aims are local and regional. If it comes to a conflict between its Shiite-Iranian interests and ideology and its local Lebanese oe I believe they will adhere to their Iranian ones.

Daoud Kuttab: I am not sure of the allegiance of Hezbollah to Iran more than to Lebanon. Remember that Nassrallah had recently made alliance with a maronite Christian party. they are interested in Lebanese issues and first and foremost the return of their prisoners, Samir Quntar has been in an Israeli prison for over 20 years

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New Hampshire: Good afternoon gentleman. I have asked this question repeatedly during Post chats since the beginning of this crisis to no avail, and am deeply grateful for your participation today. Perhaps I will get a response.

First let me say that I hope that the Israeli soldier is returned unharmed. My hope has always been for a just and lasting peace for the people of Palestine and Israel.

Israel mounted a military attack on Gaza on Tuesday the 27th. They reportedly bombed 2 or 3 bridges and hit the power station, effectively cutting off entry and exit to the strip of land that is 'home' to a million impoverished people. I am sickened, though, by the breathtaking disproportionality of this use of overwhelming force and destruction. The Palestinians are already living in squalor with little access to water, fuel, medications, food, jobs or hope. There has been scant coverage in the US press about the events that led to this situation; the bombing of the civilians on the beach, the recent killing of many Palestinians including children, and the imprisonment of hundreds of Palestinians, including women and children.

The democratically elected Hamas had at last decided to recognize Israel, and at that very critical moment-- missiles start flying and tanks roll in. Does the Israeli government really want peace? Why is the US government so disengaged? Secretary Rice was in Pakistan at the time and never bothered to intervene at all in this crisis. This administration refused to talk to Mr. Arafat and he died imprisoned. We joined with many and cut off aid to Palestine when they elected Hamas, yet Mr. Olmert was a welcomed guest at the White House. We have hamstrung Mr. Abbas and against all odds, he still managed to negotiate with an angry opposition party.

Do we want peace? Is this not a violation of the Fourth Geneva Convention to do this to an occupied people? Isn't this the very definition of collective punishment?

Daoud Kuttab: the Geneva conventions where written up exactly to prevent what we are seeing today collective punishment against innocent civilians

Yossi Melman: Yes Israel -its people and government - does want peace. Israel does recognize the right of the Palestinian to exist and have a state of their own. Israel over the last years is in a process of withdrawing from Lebanon, recently from Gaza and declared its intention to leave most of the West bank. Yet Hamas refuses to accept the right of Israel to exist, launched an attack against an Israeli position within Israel 4th of June borders which are internationally recognized and accepted while Hezbollah a fundamentalist organization which is calling for the creation of theocracy in Lebanon and takes order from Teheran attacked this morning an Israeli army position within Israel's recognized borders. So for God's sake who is here the aggressor> the very basic problem of our conflict is that there are elements in the Palestinian and Arab societies which call for the annihilation of Israel. Once this is overcome I believe that tactical and territorial questions can and will be solved. Peoples on both sides wish to live in peace but some leaders, I am afraid perefr notions such as history and ideology and religion to peaceful existence.

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Jerusalem Israel : For Daoud Kuttab. As a Christian Arab you have witnessed the constant campaign of intimidation by Palestinians which has led to for instance, a town like Bethlehem which once had a large Christian majority now having a frightened intimidated Christian minority. Why don't you have the courage to find fault with the radical Islamic elements instead of , doing what you always automatically do, blame Israel?

Daoud Kuttab: thanks for the question but the major burden of all Palestinians Muslim or Christian is the occupation and its effects on our society, life, land and future. Sure the numbers of Palestinians is dwindling but in any conflict this happens, for Palestinian Christians the opportunities to leave are greater. I am not denying that in the lawlessness that we have these days many weak Palestinians (meaning without political military or financial power) get step on including by fellow Palestinians, Palestinian Christians have suffered, in this case, but for the most part the nationalist leadership as well as the Islamists have been very careful not to allow discrimination and intimidation, nevertheless some do happen

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Kat I, Brooklyn, NY: I've always found the sound byte of "the Palestinians must recognize Israel's right to exist" to be confusing. Shouldn't it be the other way around? There have been far more Palestinian civilian deaths, and they're the ones whose basic human and civil rights have been severely limited, living in what is essentially an apartheid country, homes bulldozed, bridges destroyed, roads cut off, limited access to water, to energy, to schooling and jobs. How is this not glaring hypocrisy? Last time I checked, it was the Israeli army that was responsible for the deaths of UN workers, cameramen, and peace activists like Rachel Corrie and Tom Hurndall. While I realize there is blame to go around on both sides, I think Israel is the most egregiously offensive in this awful situation. What are both of your thoughts on this idea, that ultimately it comes down to Israel recognizing the Palestinians right to exist?

Yossi Melman: Israel did recognize the right of the Palestinian people to exist many times. Israeli governments including the current one have accepted the solution of two states for two peoples. It is the current Palestinian government led by Hamas which refuses the recognize the right of Israel to exist. Hamas' charter which was drafted in 1987-8 which is still binding and guiding the organization denies the right of Israel to exist. Yet I am in favor of a negotiated solution with anyone including Hamas who is ready to start talking.

Daoud Kuttab: I hate to have the charter discussion restarted. Hamas and Fatah and the other factions have agreed (although not widely reported) on the prisoners document which calls for creating a Palestinian state in the 67 borders and not to attack Israelis beyond the green line. I think this is a great agreement if adopted and included in a cease fire treaty could be the beginnings of serious discussions for peace

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Alexandria, VA: Gentlemen,

The Israeli invasion of Gaza has gotten relatively uncritical media coverage here in the US, although within Israel there seems to be some very skeptical analysis. What effect, in your views, does such uncritical acceptance of Israeli policies have on the overall dynamics of the Arab-Israeli peace process and the American role within it?

Yossi Melman: I would draft the q differently with your permission: why the USA government and most of its people and the EU and Japan doing it? my a. is because this time they think that Israel is the victim. When Israel started to make concessions - withdrawing from Gaza its positions and towns inside its June 1967 borders not the occupied West bank are attacks. can you understand the Palestinian -Hamas logic. they have been demanding for nearly 40 years the withdrawal of Israel from their land and when Israel is doing it they response with attacks?

Daoud Kuttab: We have a problem in both sides are claiming victimhood. The real victims are those who are injured, killed and are in jail whether they be Israelis or Palestinians

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Wheaton, MD: When Israel gave Gaza to the terrorists almost a year ago, what did they expect to happen? Anyone should have seen this coming.

Yossi Melman: I am not sure you are right. occupation remains a problem for the Israeli society. Jewish settlements are not contributing to our security. The Army can defend Israel without civilians living on Palestinian's lands.

Daoud Kuttab: when the Israelis withdrew from Gaza they wanted the Palestinians and the world to declare that the occupation in Gaza is over. this never happened even by the US. Occupation continued although in different ways mostly in controlling the borders and preventing money to be paid to civil servants because of a democratically elected government

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Milan, Italy: It appears Israel doesn't respond properly to terrorism. Israel's soft responses seem to only encourage more attacks. What will it take for Israel to seriously deal with Islamic terrorists?

Yossi Melman: I disagree with you. Using unlimited force will only create brutal responses. one has to know the wisdom of limitations and restraint

Daoud Kuttab: I am not sure what you consider to be soft responses. Take the following, blowing up the electric plant, besieging Gaza placing 1.5 million in a big prison, refusing to allow 5,000 Palestinians caught outside from returning home( 5 died from exhaustion). killing over 50 people mostly civilians, including children and two entire families.

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NH: Thank you for taking my question.

I just became aware of the kidnapping of 2 IDF soldiers along the Israel/Lebanon border and the subsequent declaration by Mr. Olmert that this is "act of war". 5 bridges have been bombed and a power plant heavily damaged. People are already dead. Are we witnessing the beginning of the end to any hope of peace in the region? I am heartsick.

Daoud Kuttab: I hope not, although I am not sure that we had peace until this capture of the soldiers happened. The US, which is the major peace broker in the region has been absent these past two weeks, maybe this will wake them up and get them much more involved to put a stop to this madness

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Rochester, MN: Just Today 7 Palestinian Children were killed by Israeli attack. I do not see a single US newspaper highlighting that. When this kind of media coverage will end? From my 5 years stay in USA I know Americans are good people ( more so than where I am from) . If they knew all the facts and stories, US policy in middle east would have been much different.

Thanks.

Daoud Kuttab: The US media and the US government have done little to help the situation even though they gave and continue to give unlimited support to Israel. Even an Israeli politician has asked that the US send an envoy. I would agree with that call, because the US is the only party that can make some sense, if they choose to, with Israelis

Yossi Melman: I disagree with Daoud. The US media is doing generally a fine job. The solutions to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict are well known and surprisingly agreed by most people on both sides. The matter is how get out of the vicious circle of violence, sit down and talk business. This can't be done by the media only by leaders who have the backing of the people and really care about the suffering of their folks.

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Washington, D.C.: Mr. Kuttab, Prime Minister Haniyeh wrote in the Washington Post, just yesterday, that core 1948 issues must be negotiated. How does that reflect Hamas' recognition of the State of Israel's right to exist? At best it seems to allow for individual Israelis right to live in a Palestinian state that encompasses all of pre-1948 Palestine.

Daoud Kuttab: a real settlement begins with each side declaring what it wants, dreams and desires and then what it is willing to accept. Olmert is saying the same things when he says we dreamt of Judea and Samaria and Gaza but the reality is different, haniyeh is saying we need to negotiate about the core of the problem if we want a serious core solution.

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Yossi Melman: Daoud. I too hate to discuss the past and be led into sentimental and historical arguments which will lead us nowhere. But you know better than me hat the refusal of HAMAS TO ACCEPT Israel's right to exist and its perception of the territory between the sea and the river as a holy land sits in the heart of he conflict. it takes the conflict back to square one when the PLO o the 50s and 60 did the same. Hamas is a divided organization and can't make a decision for a breakthrough of he current deadlock. And as for the prisoner's document members of Hamas have now second thought about it.

Daoud Kuttab: I just think Israelis spend more time and give more weight to words than even those Palestinians who write them. I prefer to judge people by their actions., When Hamas declared a unilateral cease fire for 18 months they were up to their words

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Hyattsville, MD: I've heard the argument that Israeli settlements in the West Bank are all about "security for Israel", and I have to say, this makes absolutely no sense to me. Can anyone explain how planting Israeli settlements on Palestinian land contributes to anyone's "security"? (I've been to some of these settlements and they are mostly just weekend homes, if anyone ever goes there at all except for the ubiquitous Israeli military.) Isn't this just about Israeli expansionism? Why should Americans be taxed to pay for this, anyway?

Daoud Kuttab: security happens when people make peace with their neighbours, Mr. Sharon and now Olmert have finally realised that the settlements are a burden to the Isreali army but this doesn't mean that they were ever legal

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Seattle, WA: Given the grotesque events that the world has witnessed with kidnappings over the past several years (beheadings, mutilated bodies dragged through the street, etc.), can anyone really argue with the idea that a kidnapping used as a terrorist tactic really is an act of war, and that a blistering response in order to force the freeing of the captive is perfectly justified? It is high time that such kidnapping tactics be stopped in their tracks.

Daoud Kuttab: absolutely not. This is the kind of statements that make me angry and gives the impression that there is only military solutions to the conflicts of the world including in Palestine. The GENEVA CONVENTIONS were drawn up exactly to prevent this problem of armies taking excessive power against civilians to punish or revenge acts by individuals or certain groups

Yossi Melman: Sure. Kidnapping is a crime according to all international laws and conventions. I agree on this one with Daoud.

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Washington, DC: At the start of both Israeli military operations (in Gaza and Lebanon), they bombed bridges and powerplants. Bridges serve a clear military purpose by limiting transit. What military purpose does blowing up power plants serve? Is it not designed to intimidate and harass the civilian population? Thanks.

Daoud Kuttab: interesting anecdote. The power plant was privately built and owned and was insured by a special US government insurance that is to cover acts of war and terror. So the US tax payers will be repaying mr. said khoury the owner of this plan $58 million dollars.

another anecdote, Palestinians in Ramallah have begun a campaign to collect candles and send them via red cross to Gaza

Yossi Melman: It was wrong to bomb he power plant and frankly was an expression showing the frustration of the Israeli government when it was faced with the news about the Hamas attack and kidnapping of the soldier. I am against collective punishment.

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Lyon, France: Is it right to say the Israeli withdrawal from gaza was a mistake? Had Israel stayed, one soldier would not have been kidnapped and three others would still be alive.

Daoud Kuttab: It was wrong because it was unilateral and not part of an agreement. But when you leave an occupied area and keep its citizens as hostage whether in real prisons as in the 10,000 or in large prisons as in the status of the palestinians in gaza who are besieged and unable to get money to pay civil servants, then that is wrong

Yossi Melman: Isn't is a bit strange to hear a Palestinian thinker saying that an Israeli withdrawal from Gaza was wrong. After all this has been the strongest Palestinian argument for nearly 40 years. I said already before that occupation is bad for Israeli society not only for the occupied Palestinians. It would have been better if the withdrawal would have been coordinated with he Palestinian authorities but still its better to withdraw than not. Israel can defend itself by its army without Jewish settlements sitting like a thorn in the midst of Palestinian communities.

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Arlington, VA: Submitting early because of a meeting.

It appears that Khaled Mashaal, who resides in Syria, and not the elected leaders of Hamas, is calling the shots concerning the captured Israeli soldier. Who is Mashaal and why is he more powerful than the leadership elected by the Palestinian people?

Daoud Kuttab: It is not clear that he is calling all the shots, he is the head of the political bureau of Hamas (remember natenyahu tried to poison him in amman but king hussein forced the Israelis to give the anti dote and to release sheikh ahmad yasin.

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Yossi Melman: He is indeed calling the shouts. And this is exactly the problem. Hamas' unclear and divided position is a kind of deja vu. It takes us back to 40 years to the stupid game played by the PLO we do accept Israel we don't.

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Cambridge, MA: Mr. Kuttab and Mr. Melman,

If the Palestinians met Israel's demands to release Shalit and stop firing rockets, would that lead Israel to end its operations in Gaza? Conversely, if Israel met the Palestinians' demands to release a large number (1000?) of prisoners, would that lead the Palestinians to end rocket attacks on Israel?

Daoud Kuttab: The rocket attacks actually could be stopped immediately if the Israelis accept the offer of the Palestinian Prime minister who offered a cease fire by both sides

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Montvale, NJ: How much pressure will Israel place on Syria in this crisis? They give sanctuary to Mashaal, the Hamas leader believed responsible for the kidnapping of Shalit in Gaza, and they're long time supporters of Hezbollah who is responsible for the kidnapping of the 2 soldiers today. Shouldn't military pressure be applied to Syria since they have the most leverage over these groups?

Daoud Kuttab: I am surprised about how people continue to believe that everything can be resolved militarily. Israel is holding Palestinian, Lebanese and other Arab prisoners. More killings and invasions will not bring soldiers back. even Israelis know that, the problem now is pride. Israeli army hates to lose or appear weak and they want to always reestablish what they call deterrence. As the father of Shalit said, I don't want deterrence made on the account of my son. One more issue, the Israelis insist that negotiations will lead to more kidnappings. Well the case in Lebanon shows that even without negotiations kidnapping might and do occur. The key is in admitting that prisoners Israeli is holding are as dear to their loved ones and the Israeli prisoners held by Arabs

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Saint Paul, MN: With the current escalation of violence on both sides, what are the chances that Hamas and Olmert can restore a cease-fire? Is this escalation a response to Olmert taking over the reins? What response should the current Administration be supplying to that end?

Yossi Melman: Interesting question. Yes it is still possible that Hamas and Olmert will sit and talk. this should be a desirable target. I agree that the Hamas attack on Israel is also attest and a challenge to see how the newly elected Premier is responding, whether he is a strong an determined leader like A. Sharon or a weak one.

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Philadelphia, PA: Why was GAZA not returned to Egypt when the 1979 peace treaty was signed? Didn't Egypt control that area from 1948 - 1967? Is it that Israel saw value in maintaining control or did Egypt refuse to take control?

Yossi Melman: Because Egypt didn't want it back

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Potomac, MD: Iran is recognized as the world's most active state

sponsor of terrorism. The Islamic Republic of Iran

donates about 200 million dollars every year to

Islamic Jihad, HAMAS, Hezbollah, and insurgent groups

in Iraq. Just today Hezbollah militants captured two

Israeli soldiers. This isn't the first time this has

happened. Mahmoud Ahmadinejad has consistently said

he wants Israel wiped off the map and he will try and

use these groups (Hamas and others) to accomplish his goal. What is your take on this dilemma?

Yossi Melman: Yes. Iran is causing a lot of problems to the stability of the region and to the world peace. It would have been better for the Palestinians themselves not to rely on Iran.

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Rockville, Maryland: Your discussion sees quite reasoned and positive. Many who comment in the USA (and Europe) are angry and unforgiving. Will it be better to let local negotiators settle the problems and keep the foreigners out?

Daoud Kuttab: Easier said than done, ours is a conflict that was born in the world community whether you begin with the mcmahoun letters and balfour declaration (both from Britain both promising Palestine to opposite sides) through the general assembly's birth certificate to Israel to the billions of dollars in military and civilian aid. the international community has a responsibility and they need to be involved to stop this madness

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Munich, Germany: I've never been part of a joint Israeli-Palestinian online session. I think that it's a great idea to air ideas.

That said, how do you gentlemen envision a way forward under the present circumstances? Do the short-term and long-term goals of the two sides of the conflict vary so widely that a consensus is unlikely?

Yossi Melman: Thanks. Had it been between me and Daoud I believe the conflict would have been resolved many many years ago. My recipe is:

Hamas has to recognize Israel. A negotiation must start between the two sides. A cease fire, a complete one has to be called. Israel should release Palestinian prisoners. Hamas has to release Gilad Shalit our kidnapped soldier.

The international community USA included of course should sponsor and intervene in the discussion which must be aiming at the creation of two states living in peace side by side with a free movement of people and good.

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Yossi Melman: I wish I can be optimistic but I'm afraid the current circumstances lead me to estimate that we will see more bloodshed from both sides and only in the not very soon future the two sides after exhausting themselves will decide to talk to each other along the lines which all of us know are the only ones which can bring peace and stability to his bleeding region. So I wonder why not now if the magical solution is not that magical and is known to all of us?

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