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Interview with Robert Serry; Interview with Dan Shapiro

Aired August 03, 2014 - 13:00   ET


WOLF BLITZER, HOST: It's just past 8:00 p.m. here in Jerusalem on this, the 27th day of Israel's Operation Protective Edge.

In just a moment, I'll be joined by top officials trying to mediate this conflict from the United Nations and from the U.S. government.

But first, let me catch you up on the latest developments.

Today, the Palestinian Healthy Ministry said at least 10 people were killed when Israeli shells landed near a United Nations-run school in Southern Gaza that was sheltering almost 3,000 people. No comment yet from Israel on the attack, but the U.N. secretary-general, Ban Ki-moon, called it -- and I'm quoting now -- "a moral outrage and a criminal act."

The 10 Palestinians killed near the school and the 61 others killed today bring the total dead on their side of this conflict to over 1,800. This according to Palestinian Healthy Ministry officials.

For its part, Israel says that militants have fired more than 80 rockets at its territory since midnight. And officials there say -- and officials in Israel, at least, say 64 soldiers, three civilians have been killed since this round of fighting began.

According to the Israel Defense Forces, 4,626 targets have been struck in Gaza via attacks from the air, the sea and the ground and they say at least, at last count, Gaza -- that the Hamas forces in Gaza launched about 3,100 rockets or missiles into Israel.

On Friday, a temporary cease-fire, led by the United States and the United Nations, brought a glimmer of hope. But any sense of optimism was destroyed when three Israeli soldiers were killed in Gaza shortly after that cease-fire began.

Let me bring in the United Nations man in the middle of this crisis.

Robert Serry is the U.N. special coordinator for the Middle East peace process.

He's joining us now in Jerusalem.

So -- thank you so much, first of all, for joining us.

Thanks for all the work...


BLITZER: -- you're trying to achieve.

First of all on this -- this hit at this U.N. school in Southern Gaza today, you heard what the U.N. secretary-general said.

What -- what else can you tell us about this?


SERRY: Well...

BLITZER: -- I assume you've been briefed.

SERRY: -- I think this is only one incidence which we have seen since the -- the cease-fire on Friday was breached. We have seen hundreds of casualties. We have seen heavy fighting in Rafa. This is what should have been prevented, Wolf, by -- by a cease-fire.

BLITZER: Why didn't that cease-fire work?

SERRY: Well, let me tell you, I don't have independent U.N. confirmation of all those events and I think one of the weaknesses of this cease-fire was, of course, that there -- there was no observation of -- of the commitments on both -- on both sides.


BLITZER: Who violated it?

SERRY: Well, that was clear. I -- I was myself going down, actually, in the hope of visiting Gaza. And when I got the first information about this incident around 9:30, in which three Israeli soldiers, we know now three, were -- were killed...

BLITZER: Because the cease-fire was supposed to go into effect at 8:00 a.m. local time.

SERRY: At 8:00 a.m.. This happened at 9:30.

BLITZER: And at 9:30, 90 minutes later...

SERRY: Exactly.

BLITZER: There was this incident?

SERRY: Yes. Yes. So this was a serious breach. And both the secretary-general and also Secretary Kerry, as the -- the two who have been announcing the cease-fire, have been very clear that this was a very serious breach of the -- of the cease-fire.

BLITZER: By whom?

SERRY: By Hamas.

BLITZER: So Hamas, the United Nations believes...


BLITZER: -- broke that cease-fire?



Why would they do that?

You had commitments...


BLITZER: -- you believe from Hamas at the highest levels, right?

SERRY: Exactly.

BLITZER: So what happened?

SERRY: Well, what happened?

There's always a lot of talk, in a war, Wolf. I had also -- and -- and you must have heard that also from -- from the other side, from the Hamas side, that they have been complaining about possibly lines having been -- the Israeli lines having moved, maybe even prior to the eight hour, which is then technically not a breach of the cease-fire, but not in the spirit, I must say, of a cease-fire.

This has never been -- this actually has been denied by the IDF to me. But it's clear to me that there were also Israeli operations ongoing in that area. And that was also allowed, according to the cease-fire, as you know.

BLITZER: Khaled Mashaal...


BLITZER: -- the leader of Hamas...


BLITZER: -- what, told our Nic Robertson in an exclusive interview in Doha, Qatar, that they never -- and they -- they insisted they told the Qatari foreign minister, who told Secretary Kerry, told the United Nations, they never accepted this notion that Israel could continue its operations against those tunnels.

SERRY: Well, they have been made very well -- very aware that that was actually going to -- to happen and was part of it.

BLITZER: Hamas was well aware of that?

SERRY: Yes. Yes.

BLITZER: And they accepted it...

SERRY: But what I...

BLITZER: -- based on what you know?

SERRY: That is what we believed, that they had -- that they had accepted it.

BLITZER: Based on what Qatar told you?

SERRY: Exactly. Exactly.

Now, I think what -- what also may have happened is that whatever assurances were given or were conveyed as part of these understandings, it may not have actually reached the -- the technical level or the field level...


SERRY: In Gaza itself. So I don't rule out that, in fact, this was a mistake or a misunderstanding and not an intended Hamas action against -- against these Israeli soldiers.

BLITZER: So how do you -- where do we go from here...

SERRY: Well...

BLITZER: -- because I know you are still working around the clock...


BLITZER: -- to get a cease-fire.


BLITZER: Is that at all realistic?

SERRY: Well, I don't think we have any other choice but to keep trying, Wolf.

What if we have -- we have seen the consequences now of -- of yet another failure, which means continued fighting, continued escalation, now also this school incident this -- this morning with my secretary- general being outraged that yet again a school has been a theater of war rather than a safe haven.

So we have to keep trying.

If I am right in what I have been telling you, and I have some reason to believe that, then I hope that Hamas will recommit itself to the understandings reached and recommit itself to a cease-fire. I hope they will do so, also, openly and publicly.

If that happens, then I hope, also, that the Israeli government will reconsider its -- its position.

Wolf, this cannot end in a unilateral manner. There needs to be a cease-fire and then simultaneously negotiations starting in -- in Cairo.

Otherwise, it -- you know, if this ends with a count for count, with Gaza devastated, that will be cynical and irresponsible by all of us, increasingly the international community.

BLITZER: So your message to Hamas, the political wing, the military wing, is what?

SERRY: Is to recommit themselves to a cease-fire, give a clear indication that they are ready to stop rocket fire. That can be the beginning of -- of, I hope, of serious -- of -- of a serious trying again to have a cease-fire in place and simultaneously talks that should start in -- in -- in Cairo.

Let me also tell you this, Wolf. If it ends as I said, as I fear now, with a -- with maybe Israel -- Israel unilaterally withdrawing, going back to count for count, then we wouldn't have addressed any of the underlying issues.

That is, as I already said in my -- in my view, irresponsible and it will not help Gazans, it will not help Israelis, because what we need are serious talk -- talks about lifting the blockade, opening up Gaza in exchange for Israel's security.

These are two interrelated issues and can only be negotiated.

BLITZER: And so the bottom line is you want a public statement from Hamas saying they're ready to accept the terms of a cease-fire.

And from Israel, what do you want from the Israeli government?

SERRY: I want what I would hope from the Israeli government is that it will seriously consider any opportunity for stopping this, Wolf. This has gone on for much too long, with so many casualties. And, again, today, with another tragedy.

BLITZER: Robert Serry, thanks so much for all the important work you're doing.

We really appreciate it.

Anything else you want to say before I let you go?

SERRY: No. Thank you.

BLITZER: Thank you so much.


BLITZER: Thank you.

SERRY: All right. (INAUDIBLE). BLITZER: Don't leave yet. Don't leave yet.

SERRY: All right.


BLITZER: Welcome back to GPS, I'm Wolf Blitzer, reporting live from Jerusalem. Fareed Zakaria will be back in a few minutes, but let's bring in the United States ambassador to Israel, Dan Shapiro, who's joining us live.

Mr. Ambassador, thanks so much for joining us. Let me get right to this quote that's been widely reported that the prime minister of Israel, Benjamin Netanyahu, reportedly said to you after the collapse of that cease-fire Friday morning, that the U.S. should never ever second-guess me again when it comes to Hamas and its intentions.

Is that accurate?

DAN SHAPIRO, U.S. AMBASSADOR TO ISRAEL: Well, first of all, I have an excellent relationship with Prime Minister Netanyahu, but one thing I never do is talk about my private conversations with him publicly.

What I would draw your attention to, Wolf, is the remarks the prime minister made in his press conference last night, where he pointed out the strong support that the United States has given Israel throughout this conflict, specifying President Obama's condemnation of the rocket attacks and the frontal (ph) attacks against Israeli civilians, specifying his appreciation for the United States' support for the Iron Dome missile defense system, specifying his appreciation for Secretary Kerry's diplomatic efforts to try to bring about an end to the attacks and a cease-fire that could bring about some stability. And so that's the kind of support that the United States has provided to Israel throughout this conflict. Indeed, when the cease-fire broke down on Friday morning, we immediately condemned Hamas, who was responsible for the attack that took the lives of three Israeli soldiers.

And at the same time, we're still trying to work together with Israel and with other partners in the region, like the Palestinian Authority, like Egypt, to arrive at a durable solution that can get to some of the underlying issues that have bedeviled Gaza and Israel for so long.

BLITZER: And is a cease-fire at all possible right now, given the attitude in Israel, the attitude of Hamas? Is that at all realistic?

SHAPIRO: Well, it's very difficult and I think President Obama spoke to that on Friday after the cease-fire was violated. But after several days or really weeks of painstaking diplomacy with every effort made to make sure that both sides understood exactly what the terms of this cease-fire were, to give a chance for respite for the civilians of Gaza, who have suffered so gravely during this conflict, for the civilian population of Israel that's been living under rocket fire and fear of tunnel attacks, a pause of 72 hours, a humanitarian pause to allow relief to come in, to allow talks to get underway in Cairo.

And after all that work to get that cease-fire in place, within an hour and a half Hamas violated it by an attack that killed three Israeli soldiers.

That is going to -- still going to be our goal to try to get to a durable situation in which the violence stops, in which the rocket and tunnel attacks stop, in which the violence that's affected Palestinian civilians stops. But that's going to be very difficult following that experience.

BLITZER: Because you just heard Robert Serry, the special U.N. envoy, say that they did have a hard commitment from the political leadership of Hamas that Israel would be able to continue its demolition, if you will, of those tunnels. But maybe that didn't filter down to the guys in Gaza itself.

Is that your understanding as well?

SHAPIRO: Well, first of all, speaking to this on Friday as well. First of all, Israel has every right, as any country would, to defend itself against rocket attacks. No country can live with 3,000 rockets being fired against a civilian population. It has every right to destroy those tunnels, which were clearly built to conduct terrorist attacks against Israeli population, civilian population.

And so we've given our backing to that operation for those purposes when it was made very clear what the terms of that cease-fire were. And it's not particularly relevant whether one particular leader knew the terms and it didn't get down to every soldier in the field.

When a body like Hamas, which has the security control within Gaza and speaks for the Gaza factions in a cease-fire like that, makes a commitment like that, it has to be a commitment that can be kept. In this case, it was violated within an hour and a half.

So you heard Robert Serry, the U.N. special envoy, make an appeal to Hamas, to issue a public statement, saying they will abide by a cease-fire.

Here's the question. Do you believe the current government of Israel, the government of Prime Minister Netanyahu, after all these experiences over these past, what, nearly four weeks, that Israel will go along with a cease-fire if that were to be -- if that were put back on the agenda?

SHAPIRO: Well, I'll let the Israeli government speak for themselves. It's understandable that the trust that's necessary, the minimal trust that's necessary to have a cease-fire take hold and then to have cease-fire be maintained was severely shaken by what happened on Friday.

One, we would never put our trust in a terrorist organization, but through the communications that we had, there was clarity about what the terms were. And this one didn't take.

Now, obviously, our goal still remains to work with Israel, to work with other partners and allies in this region like the Palestinian Authority, like Egypt, like some of our allies in the Gulf to arrive at a stable situation that's going to end rocket attacks, it's going to end tunnel attacks, it's going to end the violence that's affected Palestinian civilians.

And there may be ways to do that. But it's not going to be easy to reconstruct a cease-fire after what happened on Friday.

BLITZER: You heard Prime Minister Netanyahu yesterday in his news conference repeatedly condemn the role that Qatar is playing, hosting Khaled Mashal, the leader of Hamas, for example, in Qatar.

Is Qatar still a reliable emissary, if you will, because the U.S. doesn't deal directly with Hamas?

SHAPIRO: Correct. Hamas is a terrorist organization designated under U.S. law and we don't deal with them. Qatar has a relationship with the leadership of Hamas and has been one of the channels that has been used to try to have some of those communications.

Look, obviously, our faith in what we hear through those channels has been shaken by what happened on Friday. That doesn't mean we won't still try to work through countries that we have relationships with and who have influence and relationships with the leadership of Hamas, when it's appropriate to do that.

But at this point, there's no question that it's made been harder by what happened last week.

BLITZER: You're the U.S. ambassador here in Israel. Based on everything you know, is President Obama and Secretary Kerry, are they still personally committed to trying to get a cease-fire?

Or are they just going to throw up their hands and say it's not going to happen?

SHAPIRO: Oh, there's no question. I mean, the whole purpose of trying to get a cease-fire was to bring about an end to the rocket and tunnel attacks, an end to the violence that's affected Palestinian civilians.

It's really been a terrible situation for everybody on both sides. And we mourn all of those casualties and we mourn the Israeli soldiers who have been affected in this conflict, as well. And so a cease-fire was one way we were looking to try to bring about an end to that violence that's affected people on both sides.

BLITZER: And you're still trying.

SHAPIRO: Well, trying to find an arrangement that will achieve the same goal. Exactly what form that will take after what happened Friday, it's not clear, but our efforts continue, our contact with all the key parties continue, and we won't stop trying because we can see how much -- how much it's affected people's lives in Israel and in Gaza.

BLITZER: Ambassador Shapiro, good luck. We're all counting on you, counting on the United Nations, counting on all people of goodwill to end this because it is pretty brutal what's going on.

SHAPIRO: Thank you, Wolf.

BLITZER: This is a real war. Thank you so much for joining us.

Dan Shapiro is the United States ambassador to Israel.

When we come back, Fareed will be back. And he's going to give all of us his take on some of the other major crises in the world. He's also going to tell us why he sees a rise in Putin wannabes around the globe.