Return to Transcripts main page


Netanyahu Says Full-Scale Fight Against Hamas Will Continue; President Obama Demands Unconditional Return Of Israeli Soldier

Aired August 2, 2014 - 18:00   ET


WOLF BLITZER, CNN HOST: Happening now in THE SITUATION ROOM Special Report.

Breaking news. Israel's prime minister says Hamas has been hurt severely, but a full scale fight will continue. He says until Israel's objectives are met. No let up in Gaza as the death toll mounts. We will get reaction from the Palestinian chief negotiator, Saeb Erekat.

And What should the U.S. do next after a cease-fire failure? Is there any way left to halt the bloodshed? I will ask the group of top experts.

Welcome our viewers from the United States and around the world. I'm Wolf Blitzer in Jerusalem. You're in the SITUATION ROOM.

There's no end in sight to the bloodshed between Israel and Hamas. Prime minister Benjamin Netanyahu vowing to keep going until Israel has demolished every single Hamas tunnel that may threaten Israel. And right now, Israeli forces are frantically trying to find one of their own. The Israel says Palestinian militants kidnapped this man, Second lieutenant Hadar Goldin.

Meanwhile, Netanyahu took a moment today praise U.S. support for Israel. He went out of his way to praise the president of the United States and secretary of state.


BENJAMIN NETANYAHU, ISRAELI PRIME MINISTER (through translator): Just untiring efforts of secretary Kerry with whom I speak to several times a day in trying to help Israel and the efforts of President Obama, who has made, I think, consistent statements about Israel's right to defend itself.


BLITZER: The prime minister says Israel will do everything in its power to find that missing Israeli soldier.

For more on Israel's plans, I want to bring in Dore Gold. He is the senior foreign policy advisor to prime minister Netanyahu. Also a former Israeli ambassador to the United Nations.


Pleasure to be with you, Wolf.

BLITZER: What is the information you have on that missing Israeli soldier?

GOLD: Well, frankly, that is now being handled by the channels that dealing these things. The defense minister actually visited the Goldin family tonight along with senior officers. But right now, it is best not to really speculate about this on the international media. It is something which will handled by the military in a very serious manner.

BLITZER: Obviously, a very sensitive issue right now. When the prime minister of Israel says Israel is going to regroup, I assume that means start withdrawing forces, if they haven't already, ground troop from Gaza. What is your understanding now that apparently most, if not all of those, Hamas tunnels from Gaza into Israel have been destroyed?

GOLD: First of all, they all have not been destroyed, but never mind.

BLITZER: Most of them have been destroyed.

GOLD: A good number of them have been destroyed. The prime minister used the word redeploy. There is work still to be done in the Gaza Strip. And therefore, the Israeli troops will be on the perimeter of Gaza. Some will be inside of Gaza. Right now, there is a very large presence in southern Gaza looking for our lieutenant Goldin who has obviously been taken capture by the Hamas.

I think we are -- it is still a developing situation, but where we have finished our work, for example, in Beit Lahiya (ph), Israel told the Palestinians to come back to the neighborhood because the Israel had finished its operation.

BLITZER: That is in the northern part of Gaza.

GOLD: That's in northern Gaza.

BLITZER: Close to Israel. You are the diplomat -- you used to be an Israeli diplomat. Why not send a team of high-level Israeli officials to Cairo to meet with the new Egyptian government of president El Sisi. He is meeting separately with the Palestinian delegation. You want good relations with Egypt.

GOLD: Well, first of all, Israel has excellent relations with Egypt under General El Sisi.

BLITZER: So, if he invites a team of Israelis to come over, why not say yes?

GOLD: Well, first of all, we went down the route of the cease-fire, humanitarian cease-fire, 72 hours cease-fire with Hamas. And of course, you know what happened. A little over an hour after the cease-fire went into effect, a suicide bomber came out and attacked Israeli forces. Two were killed. And then, of course, lieutenant Goldin was captured by Hamas as a result.

BLITZER: I understand that. But I'm trying to take a look at Israeli-Egyptian relations. There is a new leadership in Egypt. It is not Mohammad Morsi, the Muslim brotherhood president. You had a terrible relationship with him. But there is a new relationship there. El Sisi wants to have good relations with Israel. So he invites you to come over. In effect, when you say no, isn't that a snub?

GOLD: No. It is not a snub. And Israel is regularly consulting with General El Sisi's team. There is a various good strategic understanding between the Israel and Egypt about the dangers.

You know, Hamas, we think of it a Palestinian context. We think of the Israeli-Palestinian struggle. But Hamas has been allied with a Jihadi group in Sinai. (INAUDIBLE) which has been involved in attacks inside of Egypt in the Nile delta area. So, you know, when we have these difficulties which we are having with Hamas, the Egyptians understand that.

BLITZER: That would be more reason, though, to try to strength Israel's relationship with Egypt because the Egyptian government does view Hamas almost like a cousin of the Muslim brotherhood which they regard as terrorist organization. You would think you would want to further align yourself with this new Egyptian government.

GOLD: Well, again, whether we send a delegation now to start negotiating a cease-fire with Hamas or not, doesn't affect our relationship with Egyptian. These are solid and based on mutual interest. Hamas is part of the Jihadi network all over the region. They are involved with (INAUDIBLE). That is the Al Qaeda affiliated in Syria. And therefore, you know, there is plenty of joint interest in Israel and Egypt which will continue whether we send a delegation to this particular negotiation or not.

BLITZER: Because we know that Israel did accept the original Egyptian proposal for a cease-fire a few weeks ago. Hamas rejected it. If the same proposal is put on the table now by Egypt, and it is hypothetical, and the Palestinian delegation is now in Cairo says we accept it. We will immediately stop sending rockets and missiles in to Israel. Israel will stop its military activity. And then down the road, we will start discussing other issues you want demilitarization in Gaza. They want to end what they called the siege in Gaza. Are you open to accepting that initial Egyptian proposal which you then accepted and Hamas reject it.

GOLD: Well, obviously, Israel has certain goals it is trying to achieve. To further achieve those goals diplomatically. But in the absence of a serious negotiating partner on the other side, in light of Hamas' repeated violation of now seven cease-fire agreements, the Israeli cabinet has taken a decision not to send the team down to Egypt. That will have to be reviewed.

BLITZER: That is a formal decision by the security cabinet? Israel is not sending a delegation to Cairo, at least for now? GOLD: Well, let's just say that right now, the team is not going out.

I don't want to get into the security cabinet deciding or did not decide. But, you know, the security cabinet reviews the situation on a day by day basis. And we will make a decision in the future.

BLITZER: The only point I'm trying to make is, let's say Hamas, because they are suffering right now, all of the Palestinians in Gaza are suffering. You know, it is possible they might change their mind and say yes, we are rejecting those other cease-fires, but after 40 days of warfare, we now accept. And so the question is, will Israel then accept cease-fire?

GOLD: Well, can their word be accepted when they gave the word? Well, they just did. They gave their word to the Qatari (INAUDIBLE), who gave his word to the secretary state of the United States and secretary-general of the United Nations. And we lost three soldiers. We lost two soldiers and one is missing.

So again, this will be reviewed carefully by the Israeli cabinet which will look at the situation on the ground as it is developing. And we will take a decision. But you have to understand, Wolf, we're talking about an organization which doesn't play by diplomatic rules. It is part, as I said before, of this jihadist network across the Middle East and those are the rules who played by, not the rules -- .

BLITZER: But it is part of the delegation led by the Palestinian authority of President Mahmoud Abbas with whom you had a good relationship, has relatively good relationship. And that organization does play by the rules.

GOLD: That is true. We have commented on the fact that we find it a little odd, certainly we found it out in the past that Mahmoud Abbas would sit in the same delegation with Hamas. But nonetheless, now they are and we are reviewing the situation as it develops every day. We have just gone through, as I said before, seven separate cease-fire efforts that totally failed. And --

BLITZER: Maybe the eighth time will be the charm.

GOLD: Maybe. But, you know, if you don't learn something from your repeated efforts that fail because of Hamas' unreliability, then, you have a problem.

BLITZER: All right. Dore Gold, the former Israel ambassador to the U.N. You miss the U.N.?

GOLD: Do I miss the U.N.? You know, you would have to be a glutton for punishment.

BLITZER: All right, Dore Gold. Thanks very much for joining. He is now the senior foreign policy advisor to the prime minister of Israel, Benjamin Netanyahu.

Up next, we are going to get Palestinian to reaction to what Prime Minister Netanyahu has to day today. I'll speak live with the chief Palestinian negotiator, Saeb Erekat. He is standing by. We are here in Jerusalem. And this is the SITUATION ROOM Special



BLITZER: We're back live here in Jerusalem.

Joining us now, Saeb Erekat. He is the chief Palestinian negotiator. He is joining us from Jericho on the West Bank. Saeb Erekat, did you hear anything at all? And I assume you were listening to Prime Minister Netanyahu's speech today. Did you hear anything at all that was encouraging to you?

SAEB EREKAT, CHIEF PALESTINIAN NEGOTIATOR: Wolf, I heard one thing from Netanyahu tonight, one thing. He said to us I will not negotiate. I will only dictate. That was his message. That was his team. That was the address of his defense minister.

And indeed, you know, he is continuing to kill and wound 17 Palestinians on the hour every hour. And I think his bombs will not only destroy Gaza and buildings in Gaza and kill people in Gaza, but with this trend now, he will destroy relations with Egypt, destroy his relations with Jordan and with the Palestinian authority will not be existing anymore. Because we have sent the delegation as I told you last night to Cairo today. Palestinian delegation that was fully empowered to reconfirm our need to have a cease-fire. Our commitment to have a cease-fire and to begin reinventing the human suffering in Gaza by lifting the siege and so on.

Now, the prime minister not only rejected to send the delegation to Cairo. I told you when even the Israeli government said that they had accepted the Egyptian initiative, I told you this was tactical. They don't send this army, they don't recall 80,000 reservists, and they don't do this just for the mere fact to declare a cease-fire.

What Netanyahu and his cabinet are doing in Gaza, it's reoccupying Gaza. Today, 44 percent of Gaza is under Israeli occupation. I think they will continue doing this and they will end up maybe in a week, in ten days, in total occupation of the Gaza Strip. And then in total occupation of the absence of the authority that will go down the drain. And then, you know, destroying the relations with Egypt, Jordan. So what will Mr. Netanyahu tell you in the next interview is he says I have no partner because everybody in the Middle East has dashed and so on.

This government is a government that care to destroy the two-state solution. They began by follow the efforts of Mr. Kerry and Mr. Obama and our nine months of negotiations adding more sentiment than any time since 1967, dictating and not negotiating. And now, they are resorting to these killing fields and this destruction.

And Wolf, you know, with the irony is when they tell people today in Gaza that we are regrouping, go back to your homes. People are going back. There are no homes. No neighborhoods. No cities. Nothing. Total destruction. BLITZER: Saeb Erekat, let me follow up. How disappointed are you

that President Obama and secretary of state Kerry in the public statements over the past 24 hours basically defended Israel. They said Hamas was responsible for the failure of 72 hours cease-fire, that Hamas is to blame and not Israel.

EREKAT: Well, you know, life is not fair. I think Mr. Kerry did his best to have a cease-fire. And Mr. Kerry, at 12:30 a.m. on the morning of August 1st, received a phone call from Mr. Lahti. As a matter of fact, I was with him in Doha in which he told him that Hamas is on board and all Palestinian factions are on board. But the point is when Mr. Kerry said that the Israel has have the right hit tunnels, he was told that this would undermine the cease-fire in minutes and that (INAUDIBLE) have told him that Palestinians have the right to defend themselves. And that is what they insisted.

So between Israel is reserving its right to destroy tunnels and then us saying that we will defend ourselves and cause a cease-fire. And this was unfair for anyone to blame us and our side. Because between 8:00 a.m. and 9:25 a.m. in the morning of August 1st, 21 homes were demolished by the Israeli army in search of tunnels. And that's was the friction. Five Palestinians were killed. And then Palestinians killed two Israelis, one disappeared. And there is good.

Now the point is, OK, we are not going to go on the blame game and saying who is at. I notice that Israel is part of America's domestic life. I know life is not fair. I know it is my word against any Israeli in the Congress. I don't stand a chance. And who said life is about fairness and just.

What we are trying to do here is to get back to a cease-fire. We sent a delegation today to reconfirm our commitment of a cease-fire. And the Palestinian delegation is composed of who's who in Palestinian politics. With fully mandated to do the cease-fire and then to go and negotiate and talk about things by words, not bullets. By words and negotiations, not dictating and bullets and f-15s. And here you are and Israeli prime minister rejects an Egyptian initiative to go to Cairo with Egyptian invitation to send an Israeli delegation to Cairo. And not only that, he goes on the press conference and saying Israel would only dictate by means of force. And will not negotiate.

And where do we go from here, we just continue counting those who die and those who will be wounded. And then in a year's time when everybody has gone down the drain in the bath of extremism, violence, and counter violence, we say maybe it is in the nature of the DNA of those Palestinians that they act this way.

BLITZER: You make some fair points. And we heard Khaled Meshaal, the leader of Hamas make a similar point to Nic Robertson who interviewed him. And we played that clip earlier here in the SITUATION ROOM where he said Khaled Meshaal said he never agreed to allow Israel to continue its operation against tunnels during the cease-fire.

But, and this is significant, Saeb Erekat. And I want to read it to you. This is what John Kerry said after the agreement was announced by the U.N. and U.S. Kerry said in New Delhi, India, where he was. Starting later this

week at 8:00 August 1st, the parties are expected to cease all offensive military activities. Neither side will advance beyond current locations. They will stay in place. Israel will be able to continue its defensive operations for tunnels behind its lines.

So was John Kerry, when he said Israel will be able to continue its defensive operations for tunnels behind its lines, was he deliberately misleading the world, was he deliberately not listening to the Qataris had told him that Hamas rejected that specific point?

EREKAT: No, no, no. I think he -- what he said was, he told us, he told me on the phone that Israel told him that they would continue with the tunnels. And then (INAUDIBLE), when he went and saw Meshaal and saw me, he came back to secretary Kerry and told him if this is the case, which would undermine the cease-fire, OK, we're on board. But Palestinians have the right to defend themselves.

So Israelis thought attacking our homes, we defend ourselves. This is the story. He was told. I can confirm that (INAUDIBLE) on the morning of August 1st, at 12:30 a.m. from Doha, he told secretary Kerry that Kerry told him that Israel will continue destroying the tunnels. But had Latiya (ph) told him on behalf of the Palestinians that Palestinians in this case reserve the right to defend themselves. Israel had that forms, Palestinian fire and that is where we are now. That is the situation. That is the honest truth of what had happened.

BLITZER: All right. I'm glad you explained it. And I'm glad that we are continuing our conversation. And we will do it again tomorrow.

Saeb Erekat, the chief Palestinian negotiator explaining obviously there was a major problem in the 72-hour cease-fire agreement. Hamas not necessarily going along with what some others thought they would do, including the secretary of state of the United States. We will continue to pursue this matter.

Much more of Nic Robertson interview with Khaled Meshaal, by the way, tomorrow morning, Sunday morning, on "FAREED ZAKARIA GPS" 10:00 a.m. eastern you are going to see this interview.

Also, coming up, Israel vowing to do everything it can to find the second lieutenant Hadar Goldin. We are going to hear from a family member of the missing Israeli soldier.

Much more on the breaking news right after this.


BLITZER: It was the incident that ended the 72-hour of Mideast humanitarian cease-fire in what 90 minutes, the Hamas attacked an Israeli tunnel operation. Two Israeli soldiers were killed by a Hamas suicide bomber. This according to Israeli officials. One Israeli soldier, 23-year-old second lieutenant Hadar Goldin was captured. Today, the Israeli prime minister, Benjamin Netanyahu, spoke of the missing Israeli soldier. NETANYAHU (through translator): I would like to strengthen and

encourage the family of the second lieutenant Hadar Goldin who was abducted yesterday. I understand their feelings. The state of Israel will continue doing everything in order to bring our kidnapped soldiers home.


BLITZER: CNN's Saima Mohsin is near Tel Aviv. She spoke to Lieutenant Goldin's family.

SAIMA MOHSIN, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Wolf, this is an incredible close family from a close-knit community. Two brothers and a sister came out today to appeal for the return of their brother and two parents appealing for the return of their son.


How are we getting him home. How are we making sure that he is safe? Where they have?

MOHSIN: At any cost?

HEMI GOLDIN, MISSING SOLDIER'S BOTHER: I am a citizen. I am a brother. I am a family person. I am not making businesses. And I'm not talking about causes. I want to make sure my brother is coming back home. I love my brother.

MOHSIN: Hadar's twin brother says earlier that he is not an enemy of the people in Gaza. What would you like to say to people in Gaza who feel that there's an operation going on and they are being targeted too like your family is being targeted.

GOLDIN: As a family being targeted and as the Gaza people being used by Hamas, I want to say I want to see my brother home. I want the world to take care of the threats of us losing our love of family taken care.

Reporter: How is your family coping since you heard that he was missing and captured?

GOLDIN: My family -- we love our brother. We want our brother to come home. We believe that the world, the Israel, and everyone who cares can bring him home.

MOHSIN: What have you been going through? How have you been feeling?

GOLDIN: Terrible. Missing my brother. I love my brother. I hope to see him.

MOHSIN: I understand he got engaged just before the operation started. Why was that? He had something in his mind when he got engaged?

GOLDIN: My brother is a smile. I miss him so much. He got engaged to make people happy. He wanted to make people happy. To love with him. To dance with him. That's what people do.


MOHSIN: Throughout the emotional appeal, we got the sense of frustration that no one has been in touch with the family yet to tell them whether they are negotiating the safe return of their brother or to find out about his well being -- Wolf.

BLITZER: Saima Mohsin near Tel Aviv with the family of the second lieutenant who is still listed as missing in action. Saima, thanks very much.

Still ahead, life in the West Bank, mostly normal, relatively speaking, certainly then compared to the chaos in Gaza. But Palestinians in the West Bank, they are also getting more and more outraged by the day about what is going on in Gaza. We will have a full report. Our Martin Savidge went there to find out what's going on.

Meanwhile, we are live here in Jerusalem and this is the SITUATION ROOM Special Report.


BLITZER: While Palestinians in Gaza pick through the rubble of their lives, Palestinians of the West Bank, the bombs and the bloodshed are not far away.

As our Martin Savidge reports, anger places like (INAUDIBLE), anger is clearly escalating.


MARTIN SAVIDGE, CNN CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): In the West Bank, these are the most violent days in years. The anger directed at Israel and its war in Gaza. When these marchers came too close to Israeli settlement, Israeli soldiers opened fire. As many as six people died in clashes like these last weekend. A week later, the crowds are even larger as rival political groups unite in angry over what they see as a slaughter of innocents.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: The Palestinians all over the West Bank are demonstrating against this aggression against our people.

SAVIDGE: Soon word spreads that the attempts for a cease-fire has violently fallen apart.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: It is not about the cease-fire. It is not about government. It is not about Hamas. It is about the occupation. It is about the Israeli (INAUDIBLE) against the Palestinian people.

SAVIDGE: The crowd including women and children pours through the streets of Hebron. This time, the protesters fail to reach an Israeli checkpoint. The Israeli border police, soldiers are positioned to meet them. Using teargas, stunned grenades, rubber bullets, they keep the protesters away. The angry crowd firing back through shouts and rocks. It wasn't long before we were caught in the crossfire. Israeli soldiers pushed the media back while searching for demonstrators on nearby allies.

So this is kind of in between, the protesting crowd and the Israeli soldiers. In fact, here they come now. You have to keep your eyes open for the rocks and the crowd control devices.

Fears are mounting here as the death toll continues to grow in Gaza, so will the days of rage in the West Bank.

Martin Savidge, CNN, Hebron.


BLITZER: Still to come, President Obama, he has demanded the unconditional return of the Israeli soldier, but are his words enough? We are live in Jerusalem.

And this is the SITUATION ROOM Special Report.


BLITZER: We're back live here in Jerusalem.

President Obama said it loud and clear. He said Israel has a right to d defend itself. President Obama says no country should tolerate missiles and rockets raining down on it so these citizens force to rushed into bomb shelters every day. Here is what he said yesterday.


BARACK OBAMA, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: --under their land, that can be used to launch terrorist attacks.


BLITZER: Yet the bloodshed certainly continues. So, is the U.S. doing enough to try to resolve this latest crisis in Gaza?

Let's bring in the panel of experts. Joining us are CNN political analyst David Gergen, James Zogby, he is president of the Arab- American Institute and CNN's new global affairs analyst Kimberly Dozier. Guys, thanks very much for joining us.

David, you advised for U.S. president, what would you tell the president of the United States right now to do to resolve this humanitarian crisis in Gaza which seems to be getting worse by the day.

DAVID GERGEN, CNN SENIOR POLITICAL ANALYST: Step down a little bit publicly, but step it up on the diplomatically side quietly. There is still a great deal the United States can do, Wolf. And ought to be doing very quickly. And John Kerry needs help to get this done. And that is keep talking to all the parties in the Middle East so this doesn't expand and spill over into the other conflicts there now. But also, there will be a pull back by the Israelis in time. We ought

to be preparing now for what comes next after that. We need probably an international force. Israelis have argued. And we are going to need some big economic package for Gaza. And we can prepare the way with other nations on that now.

BLITZER: Jim Zogby, you know Washington well, you know the Arab world well. You know this issue extremely well. What would you tell the president? What does he need to do?

JAMES ZOGBY, PRESIDENT, ARAB-AMERICAN INSTITUTE: I think the president's made some errors on this one. This is not helping the United States at a very difficult time in the Middle East. It is not helping our standing with Arab opinion. I'm sure of that.

At the same time, I think what people understand is that Israel perfectly knows how to do -- it is like the braer (ph) rabbit trap. They know how to deal with quiet pressure. What they don't know is how to deal with public pressure. And what the president needs to do now is step up, I think, the public pressure on Israel so that an internal debate takes place in Israel about this situation in Gaza which has become out of control and a slaughter. Basically, a tremendous loss of life that is going to take a very long time for us to get over.

I think that people will look at the United States as complicit and people will look at Israel as a country that they simply cannot live with. And it is going to reverberations throughout the Arab world. Arab Leaders who were silent are going to pay a price with public opinion. And the United States will pay a price as well. This is the time id America wants to sell the (INAUDIBLE), is put pressure and try to stop the slaughter.

BLITZER: Kimberly, the U.S. credibility, I got to tell you. You appreciate this as well. U.S. credibility among Arabs, among Israelis right now not necessarily all that high. How does the Obama administration, specifically secretary Kerry and the president, how do they fix that?

KIMBERLY DOZIER, CNN GLOBAL AFFAIRS ANALYST: Not high. And yet the only way you can survive this kind of situation is to keep slogging through it. You know, there has been some calls to change who is negotiating this process to remove secretary Kerry from the process. And that would admitting defeat. You have to keep those relationships going. You got to keep the phone calls going. And from the officials I have spoken to today, that is what they are trying to do, just keep talking and keep momentum going in the right direction.

BLITZER: Is this secretary Kerry, and I'll ask a blunt question to David and I let Jim Zogby and Kimberly also weigh in. Is he the right man for this job?

GERGEN: I think he is, Wolf. And I agree with Kimberly. This is not time for him to step back. But I disagree with Jim Zogby on this point. It does seems to me that secretary Kerry has gotten himself into a very deep and hostile situation with the Israelis. And for him to be sort of be way out front and putting public pressure on when the Israelis already feel like he came up with a plan and failed and pushed the truce on him.

I think he would be better advised to lower his profile a bit. Let the White House keep pushing for Israeli withdrawal, for the Gazans to get that soldier back to the Israelis. But I really think this is the time, maybe, for quieter diplomacy and trying not dictate to the Israelis. I think we may get more out of it in the long run and have a better chance for a solution.

BLITZER: Jim Zogby, go ahead.

ZOGBY: But at the same time, 1,700 Palestinians have died and a tremendous amount of anger and despair have taken hold in Gaza and are reverberating throughout the region. So I would, David, disagree if we want to salvage anything. It is the time to stand up. Stand up the way Jim Bakker did and be very firm and very principled and not back off.

When we make a statement and then back off, the Israelis got the message that these guys can be moved. These guys can be pushed. And the Palestinians got the message, don't take these guys seriously because they really cannot do anything. I think that is the problem that we have here, is that the dynamic on both sides where the Israelis have a sense of impunity and the Palestinians have a sense that nothing we do is going to work anyway so we might as well do the worse thing we can do. And that is what is taking hold, a negative dynamic that needs adult supervision. The United States has forfeited that role by being a bit weak-need.

BLITZER: And Guys, standby because I want to continue this. Kimberly, hold on in a moment. I'll come back to you right after break. What Jim Zogby was referring to is James Bakker, when he was secretary of state during the first Bush administration, Israeli was then building some settlements and he withheld approval of loan guarantees to resettle soviet Jews in Israel until Israel stop that settlement activity.

Let's continue the conversation in a moment. We'll be right back.


BLITZER: We're back with David Gergen, James Zogby and Kimberly Dozier.

Kimberly, I was asking the question if secretary of state John Kerry, the right American leader right now to do the job.

DOZIER: I think he is. And I think that President Obama has bought him some time and space to do that by his remarks on Friday taking ownership of the criticism of Israel causing civilian casualties in its campaign against the Palestinians.

Now, what secretary Kerry has to do behind the scenes is to try to get Egypt to tighten its border area with Gaza. So that Israel has the confidence that the Palestinians that Hamas won't be able to bring in the kind of weapons and concrete that it used to build the tunnels and attack the Israelis. That is delicate negotiation.

You almost don't want the Israelis there for that because you don't want it look like they forced anyone into doing something that would leave Hamas weaker after this conflict. So that's what I think has been going on behind the scenes. President Obama takes the blame for criticizing Israel and leaves secretary Kerry to work.

BLITZER: But you know, even though the president is being praised here today in Israel, David Gergen, for the strong support of Israel. Yesterday, you know on a personal level, I suspect there is no great love between President Obama and Prime Minister Netanyahu.

GERGEN: Deep distrust almost antipathy. I think they actually like John Kerry more, but they just don't like what he is doing.

I want to go back -- look, we all agree. Jim and I are agreeing and Kimberly agreed. We want to see this end as quickly as possible. We want to end the terror coming from Hamas. And we want to end this kind of air strikes and the killing of so many Palestinians which is horrifying to look at.

But the way to do that may not be to push in a very, very public way berating the Israelis. After all, if Netanyahu called today and said stop second guessing me. And there is an argument that a lot of our diplomacy has strengthened the extremist on both sides by pushing so hard.

I think Kimberly is right. We have to be doing things behind the scenes to prepare the way for a lasting solutions which means economic aid to Gaza, and yet giving more security to the Israelis. Closing those borders.

ZOGBY: But closing the borders is exactly what Israel has done, actually since 1994. And Egypt has total control of the Rafa border. And that is the problem. And the rest of the borders are closed by Israel. I worked with vice president Gore in the '90s to try to bring economic development into Gaza. We had American companies ready to go in. But because Israel would not allow imports and exports, they pulled out. And so, the result is that unless you free Gaza and open it up, the way to strangle --


ZOGBY: Of course.

BLITZER: Hold on.

ZOGBY: But Israel will not allow trade. And because they will not allow trade, the middle class, the entrepreneurs in Gaza have dried up. And so, if you want to replace Hamas, create hope and opportunity and jobs for people in the Gaza Strip.

DOZIER: What Israeli officials I have spoken to have said is they would like to see a some sort of mechanism to allow in economic aid, but would stop what they call dual-use items like concrete and iron rebar that were used to build those tunnels. That would require Egypt to be really tough on everything going over its border crossing just like Israel is. And that is something that is being discussed.

ZOGBY: They had macaroni on their dual-use list.

BLITZER: We have to wrap it up. But to build houses, little hospitals and build schools, you need concrete, you need iron, you need that same stuff that you need to build those tunnels.

All right, guys, we are going to continue this conversation, an important conversation involving U.S. attitudes toward the critically important part of the world.

Prime minister Netanyahu today offered his condolences to the families of the 63 fallen Israeli soldiers. But while the battle with Hamas rages on, the fight for recovery is just beginning for some of the 400 wounded troops.

CNN's Sara Sidner spoke to one soldier and his family.


SARA SIDNER, CNN SENIOR INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): A mother sits by her soldier son's side. His head wrapped in a bandage after surgery, wounded on a mission inside Gaza.

HAYA LAPID, SOLDIER'S MOTHER: I heard that he got hurt, I said thanks God.


LAPID: Because we can handle it. Because we will overcome. Everything is OK, but he is alive. We earned our family.

SIDNER: He survived a blast of shrapnel to the face and neck.

LAPID: Look. He is only 21. He got hurt. His friends got killed in front of him. He lost five friends from his group. What is going to happen to him?

SIDNER: He doesn't want his face shown because he is insisting on finishing his mission. He'll be complete Israel's objective of blowing apart the Hamas tunnel network that it says can be used to strike inside Israel.

In another hospital, another wounded soldier who could talk telling us detonating tunnels underground is extremely detailed work fraught with dangers in Hamas territory.

We saw them carrying RPGs, (INAUDIBLE) and grenades, he says. When we arrived at the tunnel entry, we isolate the area so we could work on it, but there is always danger. Revealing only his first name, Ron tells us he found himself in the crosshairs of a sniper, a bullet mingled his hand, hit his hip, thigh and stomach.

ZEEV ROTSTEIN, CEO, SHEBA MEDICAL CENTER: If could injuries that we see here, this emergency room which already had more than 100 soldiers pass through here is injuries to the extremities. SIDNER: Amputations?

ROTSTEIN: Amputations, open fractures, damage to the major vessels.

SIDNER: While the families gather here at the southern Israeli hospital to worry over their soldiers who have been injured. What they are talking about is the soldier captured, their worst nightmare.

LAPID: I am thinking about this soldier and thinking about his parents. You know, it has hurt us. We don't know him.

SIDNER: But Palestinians say their pain and suffering is much greater. More than 1,600 people have been killed. Mostly civilians according to the Palestinian health ministry in Gaza.

Israeli soldiers say they try to avoid civilians, but admits, it is a war out there. Unfortunately, civilians will be harmed. Hamas is using children and civilians. They hide weapons in mosques and in schools. They shoot at us from civilian areas.

Hamas, for its part, makes clear it should come as no surprise that Israeli soldiers are targets while stalking tunnels and killing Palestinian people in a territory that is not their own.

Sara Sidner, CNN, Israel.


BLITZER: That's it for me. Thanks very much for watching. I'm Wolf Blitzer in Jerusalem. This has been a special edition of the SITUATION ROOM.

"NEWSROOM" with Poppy Harlow and John Vause will start after a quick break.