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Israel, Hamas Work On Lasting Peace Agreement


From NPR News, this is ALL THINGS CONSIDERED. I'm Audie Cornish and Happy Thanksgiving. We begin this hour with calm. The cease fire between Israel and Hamas is holding and now the detailed negotiations to forge a lasting peace can begin. The two sides will not meet face to face, but an Israeli delegation has flown to Cairo. Egyptian officials will convey proposals between the Israeli and Hamas negotiators.

The biggest issue is how much the Israelis are willing to relax their blockade of Gaza. NPR's Leila Fadel in Cairo and Philip Reeves in Jerusalem join us to discuss the prospects for a long term agreement. And Leila, to start with you, how much optimism is there in Cairo that the cease fire will hold and that some kind of lasting agreement can actually be reached?

LEILA FADEL, BYLINE: There's quite a lot of optimism here. The President Mohamed Morsi was able to extract an agreement from two parties that essentially won't speak to each other. The cease fire has held for 24 hours now and now the hard part begins, to negotiate the easing of that blockade on the Gaza Strip, something that has created a hardship lifestyle for so many Palestinians in the Gaza Strip.

And also, the Hamas leadership and Palestinian leadership in the Gaza Strip has talked about this being a victory for them, that they were able to stop a ground invasion, stop the Israelis from coming further into Gaza and they talked about how this could lead to a lasting solution.

CORNISH: Now, Philip, how is the cease fire being viewed in Israel today? I mean, is there criticism from the right that Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu was wrong not to launch a ground offensive in Gaza?

PHILIP REEVES, BYLINE: There is some criticism, yes. It very much depends who you speak to in this country. There are people who feel that Netanyahu and the Israeli government have let Hamas off the hook and that they should have gone further. They should have had this ground offensive and gone into Gaza and continued with the military offensive. This opinion seems to be stronger in the south, which is the area that has been most often hit by rockets fired out of Gaza.

There was a small protest there today, which made exactly that point. But let's not forget that 56,000 Israeli reservists were mobilized and gathered on the border between Israel and the Gaza Strip in preparation for a possible ground offensive. And although it's very hard to find Israelis who will say to you that they did not want to support the national cause and so on, there must be Israelis who are very relieved that they did not have to, at this stage, partake in that operation because I don't think there's much doubt that it would have been extremely messy.

CORNISH: Leila, back to the issue of the negotiations. How big a sticking point in these talks is the issue of the Israeli blockade of Gaza going to be?

FADEL: Well, this was the major sticking point, the reason we didn't see a cease fire a day earlier because the Israelis have been really hesitant to ease this blockade on the Gaza Strip, essentially a siege on the territory of 1.7 million people, but also what Israel calls a protective measure for Israeli territory. So what they essentially did with this agreement was put it off. So the negotiations on how much easing there will be begin now.

CORNISH: And also, Leila, I want to ask you quickly about the Egyptian President Mohamed Morsi. I mean, after his international diplomatic triumph arranging the cease fire, he also adopted some sweeping new powers domestically. What can you tell us happened there?

FADEL: He essentially now is an unaccountable leader. He is able to issue laws and decrees and they cannot be appealed in the court system. He also said that the court cannot dissolve the constituent assembly tasked with writing Egypt's most important constitution, nor the upper house of the parliament. So basically, for now, until the constitution is written, Mohamed Morsi has all the power in his hand.

Prior to this, he already had both the executive and the legislative powers. So critics of Mohamed Morsi and also other political groups are really concerned that this is a new dictatorship in the making.

CORNISH: And Philip, in Jerusalem, the death toll from the eight day conflict actually rose today with the death of another Israeli soldier. Can you describe what the mood is there?

REEVES: Well, I think the mood is very wary. And, yes, an Israeli reservist soldier, a 28-year-old captain died of his wounds, wounds that he received yesterday. Now that brings the number of Israeli dead to six. Of course, when you compare that with the Palestinian death toll estimated at 161, that is a great deal smaller. But nonetheless, these issues have great impact on public opinion and, of course, of extreme importance to those mourning the loss of life.

So that has occurred during this tense period where people are evaluating the cease fire and some of this wariness, remember, is coming from the fact that only yesterday there was bus bombing in Tel Aviv and that is reviving for Israelis very unpleasant memories of the second Palestinian intifadah, which began just over a decade ago.

CORNISH: That's Philips Reeves in Jerusalem and NPR's Leila Fadel in Cairo. Thank you both.

FADEL: Thank you.

REEVES: You're welcome. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

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Audie Cornish
Over two decades of journalism, Audie Cornish has become a recognized and trusted voice on the airwaves as co-host of NPR's flagship news program, All Things Considered.
Philip Reeves is an award-winning international correspondent covering South America. Previously, he served as NPR's correspondent covering Pakistan, Afghanistan, and India.
Leila Fadel is a national correspondent for NPR based in Los Angeles, covering issues of culture, diversity, and race.
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