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PIERS MORGAN TONIGHT

Threat of Ground War in Gaza

Aired November 19, 2012 - 21:00   ET

THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.


PIERS MORGAN, CNN HOST: Good evening. Breaking news tonight. You're looking live at a tense and fearful Gaza City but what you can't see, thousands of Israeli troops with tanks and armored vehicles poised on Gaza's borders ready to invade if Israel believes there's no chance for a cease-fire in its conflict with Hamas.

The world is watching and waiting. This was the scene earlier today.

Tonight, I'll talk to both sides of the conflict, listen to what Israel's president, Shimon Peres, tells me about the looming threat of all-out war.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

MORGAN: You do believe, Mr. President, that a ground war may be inevitable?

PRES. SHIMON PERES, ISRAEL: Well, I hope that we achieve a cease-fire. The negotiations are still being continued. It's difficult for all parties, but it's not over and the best choice for all of us is to stop shooting.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

MORGAN: You'll hear more from that exclusive interview in a moment. But we begin with CNN's Arwa Damon live in Gaza City.

Arwa, I had a fascinating conversation with President Peres earlier. He's still saying that it could go either way but what is your sense on the ground about the likely prospects of a cease-fire and how long will the Israelis give it before committing to a possible ground offensive?

ARWA DAMON, CNN SENIOR INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: You know, the likelihood of a cease-fire seems to be increasingly elusive the longer this does drag on, and all through the night, we have been hearing the sound of airstrikes, some of them have actually shook the building that we're standing in. We've also been seeing rockets continuously being fired from Gaza City, from the center of the city, towards Israel.

Not a lot of optimism on the ground here amongst residents of the city who have been through this on so many occasions in the past, that there will be any sort of cease-fire that is going to take effect in the near future, not to mention one that is going to take effect for the long term prospects of enduring peace between these two populations that have been at war for decades right now.

We hear the constant sound of drones overhead. The streets are absolutely deserted, as they have been since around 5:30 in the evening, when it first began to get dark. That is when people tell us the Israeli airstrikes really do tend to intensify. You walk through the streets here, whether it be during the day or even at night, there are so few people out. Most of the shops are closed and in every essence it feels like a war zone, a war zone that most residents would have fled except when it comes to the residents that live in the Gaza Strip. They actually cannot leave. They have absolutely nowhere to go, Piers.

MORGAN: But, Arwa, for those who have never been to the Gaza Strip, it's an extraordinary place in the sense that you've got over 1.5 million people crammed into a relatively small area, haven't you?

DAMON: You most certainly do. This is one of the most densely populated areas in the world, and that is why so many of these airstrikes do tend to cause such devastating collateral damage. By collateral damage, we're talking about the deaths of innocent civilians, including women and children.

We were at the scene of one such strike yesterday, where we saw the bodies of two young children being pulled out of the rubble. We also saw the body of a baby as well as one of an elderly woman.

The rage, the passion, the anger amongst those who were trying to dig through the rubble, a lot of the times using their bare hands, was utterly palpable and so is the sheer sense of desperation amongst many that we're talking to here that this in many ways is their fate. Again, this has been going on for decades. Many people find it incredibly difficult to try to see any sort of resolution to this conflict. Quite simply because it has dragged on for so long.

Another thing to point out, too, is that when it comes to the airstrikes here, the vast majority of the time, there is no advanced warning. People don't know when the strike is going to happen or exactly where until it actually has taken place.

MORGAN: Arwa Damon, thank you very much indeed.

Joining me now exclusively is the president of Israel, Shimon Peres. Welcome, Mr. President.

PERES: Thank you.

MORGAN: Obviously a very serious situation but it's escalating by the hour now. How do you see this resolving itself?

PERES: Well, there was also an attempt to introduce a cease- fire. We have two surprises, one a positive and another a worrying one. The positive is the constructive role that the Egyptian president is playing right now and we appreciate very much his efforts. The unpleasant one is the Iranians. They are trying again to encourage the Hamas to continue the shooting, the bombing, they trying to send them arms. They are out of their mind.

Before I should continue, let me just say right away, I want to thank you from the depth of my heart. The president of the United States and American people, for the support both moral and political, given for our people. It's not the support for a military group or military act. It's the support for our citizens because many of them are under the threat of the bombs. So thank you.

MORGAN: I mean you are getting some support from some quarters, but you are also getting a lot of what I would say heavy criticism from other areas who say that the response from Israel has already been disproportionate. We saw a building yesterday that was blown to pieces, 10 people died, a whole family wiped out, including four children.

At what stage does the retaliation by Israel to what it perceives to be Hamas aggression? At what stage does it go over the edge and become an unacceptable form of retaliation?

PERES: Well, whoever criticized us should suggest an alternative. We started with great restraint in the last six days, 1,200 missiles fall on our civilian lives, on mothers, on children. We tried to do it with restraint but apparently they hide themselves in private homes and mosques, and we are trying our best to not to hit any civilian on the other side, but unfortunately, war is war and they can't stop it.

In one minute, if they stop shooting, there won't be any casualties. We should appreciate if one of our critics will suggest an alternative. What can we do? To take the missile and say what?

MORGAN: I think the -- I think critics would say that this particular strategy has proven over the last few years to be an unsuccessful one. And in fact, all it achieves, because of the densely populated nature of the Gaza Strip in particular, it just foments more hostility amongst the people towards Israel and that in the long term cannot be good for Israel and that what needs to happen is some way to make the people of Gaza feel less oppressed.

PERES: We work out (INAUDIBLE) the people of Gaza to try really not to make their lives difficult. Gaza is open. Their economic situation has improved and we don't know why all of a sudden they decided to shoot.

I'm not talking about civilians only, but children. You know the south to shoot at 8:00 in the morning when the children go to the school. Why? What for? I mean, it is not in our hand, you know, that terrorism to fight terrorism. It's not a pleasant experience. And they don't care. They are really producers of death. And without any consideration.

MORGAN: But the problem, isn't it, is that you have 1.5 million people in this densely populated area and although the occupation, as you put it, may be over, the blockade remains and they feel extremely oppressed and have extremely high levels of poverty, and I suppose the critics again would say to you, Mr. President, look, you know, if you believe that the death of your women and children is completely unacceptable and you must defend yourselves, they, too, believe that the deaths of innocent women and children in Gaza and many more of the Palestinian women and children in the last week have been killed than in Israel, that is equally unacceptable.

And the wider world is looking for proper leadership to try and resolve this in a peaceful manner that doesn't involve both sides hurling endless rockets at each other.

PERES: Look, they have a choice. The minute they stop it, it will be stopped. We don't have a choice. We can stop and they continue. Now there is no siege, in fact about or around Gaza. The roads are open. The -- by the way, they have a common border now with Egypt. They can send clearly people and boots. We don't think there is any shortage of food, any other human needs.

We are open to a passage they can move. As far as the naval siege is concerned, it's only against arms and they can ship, they can come, they can go and they can stop. We cannot stop. It's one-sided. That's the problem. Gaza -- we left Gaza willingly. Nobody forced us. And we are aware that Gaza is very densely populated. It doesn't give us any pleasure whatsoever to see anybody in Gaza suffering. What for?

We want to live in peace with them. We don't hate them. We don't try to get any glories or any victories. We want to live in peace. They can stop any suffering in one second. Stop shooting and that's it. Officials say we stop shooting, it won't help. The order of 200 or 300 missiles a day. One-sided, their initiative.

Look, I am for fairness but to be fair, when you have one part (INAUDIBLE), and the other party without a choice, you cannot equalize the two of them.

MORGAN: If you believe, Mr. President, that Iran is behind a lot of the Hamas terror activity, as you put it, then what action do you intend to take against Iran?

PERES: Not I guess so, I know that is the case, and we are not going to make a war with Iran. But we are trying to prevent the shipping of long-range missiles which Iran is sending to Hamas, and they are urged to Hamas to fire.

I think Iran is a little bit disappointed that not only the Israeli Army's trying to stop it, but also the Israeli people are behaving with great courage and great understanding. It's not simple for us, you know, too, that mothers cannot fall asleep and the children cannot go to school. It's not just a matter how many are being killed, but what sort of a life is that. So the Iranians still didn't give up and they are also afraid that the Sunnites are coming together, they had hoped for a Shiite coalition, but Iran is a problem, world problem, not only from the point of view of building a nuclear danger, but also from the point of being a center of world terror.

They finance, they train, they send arms, they urge, no responsibility, no any moral consideration. It's a world problem and you know it.

MORGAN: Do you believe, Mr. President, that a ground war may be inevitable?

PERES: Well, I hope that we shall achieve a cease-fire. The negotiations are still being continued. It's difficult for all parties, but it's not over and the best choice for all of us is to stop shooting.

MORGAN: People have tried to suggest there is not a great relationship between Prime Minister Netanyahu and President Obama. How would you categorize their relationship from your knowledge?

PERES: I believe that politics and statesmanship is not just a matter of personal relations. I praise the behavior of President Obama. He took immediately a moral stand in support for Israel without any showing of personal reservations and I also think that the prime minister has praised the president rightly for his standing.

You know, we have now the anti-missile missile. It couldn't have been built without the support of President Obama initially.

MORGAN: Do you have confidence in the Palestinian Authority president, Mahmoud Abbas? Is he somebody that you trust and do you believe he should now be wielding, if he can, more authority to try and rein in Hamas?

PERES: Yes. I have respect for President Abbas. I think he is a serious man. I know him for 30 years. I think he's courageous. He stood up openly and declared that he is against terror, for peace, that he's for a solution acceptable by the two sides how to handle the refugee problem, and he did it in an uneasy situation.

I think he is mistaken by going to the United Nations right now, because this again may help him more than anybody else. I would prefer to see him giving us time to stop the shooting in Gaza and returning to the negotiating table without prior conditions.

MORGAN: When you negotiate, Mr. President, with anybody, you have to offer concessions, things that you wouldn't necessarily want to offer. What are you prepared to concede to Hamas if it gets to negotiation?

PERES: We don't put any conditions at all. Hamas is putting conditions. The minute that Hamas will depart from this destructive strategy, from its attempt to put an end to Israel, we shall talk with them. You know, don't forget, that the PLO, before we started to talk with them, have the same position. But then they came to the conclusion that war and killing leads to nowhere. This is we're ready to talk, the minute they said we're ready to talk, we talked, and we achieved partly, not a full peace, it takes time, it's complicated, but much better than shooting. And there was no shooting between us and the Palestinians right now.

MORGAN: Finally, Mr. President, if there are Palestinians watching this interview who feel helpless, who feel completely poverty-stricken, they have nothing, they see no hope and they now see endless Israeli rockets flying over their heads, perhaps killing relatives and loved ones, what do you say to them to offer proper constructive hope?

PERES: Two things. Stop shooting, start talking. It's in their hands. Look, I want to say very sincerely, and very seriously, we don't hate Arabs. We don't hate Muslims. They're not our enemies. Everybody can believe in what he wants. To be what he is. We respect them. We think they have the same right to live free and successfully like any other person. It is their choice. Really.

Today, too, I don't feel any hatred. I'm disappointed with their approach or the approach of part of it and let me say a word about Gaza. I think one of the difficulty for the Hamas people to make a decision is that they are divided within. There are four or five groups that cannot reach an agreement. Some of them are more extreme, some of them are more moderate and the Egyptians are trying really to unite them to one position but there is no hatred on our side.

We don't want to conquer, to win any territory. The only thing we want to win is peace for us and peace for them and I believe it's possible.

MORGAN: Mr. President, thank you very much indeed for joining me.

PERES: Thank you.

MORGAN: When we come back, the former Middle East envoy fears that things may get worse before they get better. George Mitchell joins me live.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

MORGAN: My next guest knows all too well how difficult it will be to achieve peace in the Middle East. George Mitchell resigned last year of his post as President Obama's special envoy.

Welcome to you, sir. When you heard Shimon Peres talking, one of the great statesmen of the Middle East, approaching his 90s now, what did you make of what he had to say?

GEORGE MITCHELL, FORMER U.S. SPECIAL ENVOY TO THE MIDDLE EAST: Well, I think he's right in the fact that first, of course, Israel has the right to defend itself. That goes for every nation under these circumstances. And secondly, the important point which I think is the one he stressed is that if the shooting stops, then they can be talking. And the two sides have a number of demands that they're making on each other but the important thing is to stop the shooting and stop the killing.

MORGAN: Doesn't the endless exchange of rockets and missiles exacerbate the real problem, which is the way so many people in Gaza, the one and a half million who are crammed in, feel oppressed and helpless, that they associate themselves with a group like Hamas because they offer them the only thing they're being offered by anybody, and all they're seeing are Israeli missiles firing over and they just buy into this notion that Israel is the enemy.

MITCHELL: Well, it certainly makes it more difficult, there's no doubt about that. But the fact is that since Hamas took power, there have been largely truces between them and Israel. This is not a new situation. We went through it in late '08 and '09. Egypt then and now took the lead in negotiating. The circumstances, though, are quite dramatically different in a geopolitical sense now.

Israel wants to stop the rocketing. Clearly a desirable objective from their standpoint. And they want to make it to try to deter future action by making this punishment severe but what they don't want to do is lose Egypt. A high strategic value to Israel is its peace treaties with Israel and Jordan and the circumstances in Egypt now are different than they were --

(CROSSTALK)

MORGAN: And very difficult for President Morsi.

MITCHELL: Morsi. Very difficult.

MORGAN: I mean, he's in a very, very difficult position. He's obviously trying to not alienate the Americans and the Israelis, but at the same time, he's very aware of a lot of rising anger amongst the Arab community about what is going on there.

MITCHELL: That's right. Every leader in this conflict and in this region faces competing pressures. For Morsi, it is just the ones you described. They are the Muslim Brotherhood. Hamas is an offshoot. Mubarak opposed and severely contained the Muslim Brotherhood. Morsi is now part of them or they are part of their effort, and he has this conflict.

It's tough on Hamas as well, but they could end this by stopping firing the rockets, and that would then hopefully focus attention on the very issues that you have described, I think, emphasizing the problem that the people there face.

MORGAN: Because there are innocent people on both sides being slaughtered here, indiscriminately, many would say.

MITCHELL: That's right.

MORGAN: Talk about the influence of Iran. Because Shimon Peres very, very strong about Iran. He clearly believes as many Israelis do Iran is financing, training, supplying weapons that can now shoot in possibly Tel Aviv and Jerusalem.

How real do you think that link is between Iran and Hamas?

MITCHELL: It is real. It is similar to the link, although not as close and intense, as between Iran and Hezbollah. Iran clearly has an objective. It is not new. It didn't start with this Iranian regime. It goes back a very long time, of extending its influence into the Persian Gulf and now particularly in the modern era to take control over the petroleum resources of the Gulf. And part of that is by establishing essentially what are proxy armies in the region.

Though it isn't just a case for the Iranians of Israel, it's a case of the entire Persian Gulf. That's why, as you well know, the hostility between the Persians and the Arabs, and particularly the Gulf Arabs, is very high. And what makes this kind of conflict between Israelis and Palestinians so particularly difficult is that if the -- if the Israelis could resolve this and the Palestinians, they could then turn to a -- hopefully a regional alliance against the Iranian threat into the area.

In effect, close the doors to Iranian influence in the area. That's why when I was there, I argued strongly with both sides, it makes sense for both of you, both the Palestinian Authority and Israel are very hostile to the Iranian regime. Makes sense for you guys to sit down and talk, resolve your differences, so that you can confront the real enemy.

MORGAN: Really good to see you. Thank you very much.

MITCHELL: Thank you, Piers.

MORGAN: Coming up, can this country defuse the threat of a ground war in Gaza? I'll ask a man who knows how Washington works. Bob Woodward.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

BARACK OBAMA, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: There is no country on earth that would tolerate missiles raining down on its citizens from outside its borders. So we are fully supportive of Israel's right to defend itself from missiles landing on people's homes and workplaces and potentially killing civilians.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

MORGAN: President Obama expressing support for Israel yesterday. "Washington Post" associate editor Bob Woodward says the world is dangling on the precipice of disaster, not just in Gaza, Israel. And he joins me now.

Welcome to you, Bob.

BOB WOODWARD, ASSOCIATE EDITOR, WASHINGTON POST: Thank you.

MORGAN: Why do you -- why do you think that? Why is the world dangling on this precipice, do you think?

WOODWARD: Well, if you -- put your wonderful map up there, you don't have to, but there are all these powder kegs. Pakistan still, obviously Iran, number one, Syria, what the hell is going to happen in Syria, Libya is not settled. The instability is widespread and I think one of the problems here is -- for the Obama administration, particularly in a second term, what's the theory of the case, what's the overall foreign policy. What happens, they go from crisis management to crisis management. You're never going to get a one-size-fits-all in terms of the policy but people need to know what the United States stands for.

I think the president now, after winning re-election, has moral authority in the world to a certain extent and he maybe needs to use that and develop these relationships with the leaders. Clearly with Prime Minister Netanyahu, there is not a relationship of trust. There should be and one should be built.

MORGAN: President Obama's currently on a tour of Asia. Some people think he should come back and deal with what they see as the more pressing issue of Israel and the Palestinians. What is your view?

WOODWARD: Well, again, that's crisis management. While he's in Asia, beforehand, and now they need to figure out how are we going to deal with these hot spots. I don't think he can run into the breach every moment himself personally, but he's got a secretary of state, Hillary Clinton, who also has that clout and moral authority in the world to a large extent, and it needs to be active.

The United States needs to be seen as standing for something. Obviously what's going on in Gaza is sad, tragic, and on the edge at any moment of spinning out of control, and then that spreads to other regions. Obama needs to use his leverage with not just the Israelis, but with the Egyptians who are clearly key here.

MORGAN: What did you think of the Benghazi hearings this week? A lot of Republicans getting very exercised about the chronology here, trying to find blame. Democrats saying look, you know, this is the fog of war, mistakes were clearly made, but to pillory Ambassador Rice, for example, is going too far. What do you think?

WOODWARD: Well, we don't -- there's no real crime, there's no identified corruption here. It may just be either inadequate policy, miscommunication, but it does need to be explained. It's not something that can be swept under the rug and again, it goes to that root issue, what's our policy in Libya? Is it the right policy? Does it make sense?

I suspect all of this is going to be excavated at some point. I thought the president, when Susan Rice was being picked on as she continues to be picked on, he said kind of -- come at me, I'm the guy you should deal with, and I suspect the Republicans are going to take him at that challenge.

MORGAN: I think you're right. Let's turn to the fiscal cliff. Your book "The Price of Politics" deals with this in some detail. There's a general sense that there is a greater desire on both sides to try and do a deal now. Post the election, Obama got a second term, to simply drag it out as before would be self-defeating. Do you agree with that?

WOODWARD: Well, the mood is better, but there's some real serious disagreements on taxes and entitlement reform. I think of the things going on, it is one of the most worrisome because it has an absolute deadline. The first of the year, they have to decide what they're going to do. If they don't change the laws, it's not a matter of policy, but the law on taxes and spending cuts.

The Congressional Budget Office, which is the neutral arbiter on this, has said we will have the government created recession and that could be a disaster for everyone, could be a political disaster for Obama and the Republicans.

MORGAN: Bob Woodward, there are few people who can talk with such clarity about so many different world affairs. Thank you very much for joining me. I appreciate it.

WOODWARD: Thank you.

MORGAN: Coming up, is Egypt the region's last best hope for peace? I'll ask both sides what it would take to avert a ground war.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

FREDERIK PLEITGEN, CNN INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: There over in the sky, you probably won't be able to see it here, there's an interceptor missile taking off right now. That is the Iron Dome interceptor. Right there, if you just saw the flash in the sky, that was a rocket coming out of Gaza that was just intercepted right now.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

MORGAN: Fred Pleitgen earlier today. Israel and Hamas each say they don't want a ground war but neither is backing down yet. So what will it take to get a cease-fire?

Mark Perez, a Middle East analyst and author of "Talking to Terrorists," Reza Aslan from the Council on Foreign Relations is the author of "No god but God," and Alan Dershowitz is a Harvard law professor and the author of "America on Trial."

Welcome to you all.

Cease-fire, Alan Dershowitz, is it likely?

ALAN DERSHOWITZ, HARVARD LAW SCHOOL: No. There may be a temporary cease-fire but as long as it's in Hamas' interest, as it is, which to continue this process, this strategy of firing from their civilian areas, trying to hit Israeli civilians, inducing Israel to fire back into the crowded area, thereby inevitably killing Palestinian civilians, thereby enraging the international community and the media against Israel, it's a terrific tactic. And as long as the media and the international community plays into it, it's a win- win for them, for Hamas.

MORGAN: What is the difference between Hamas murdering innocent women and children in Israel and Israeli missiles murdering innocent Palestinian women and children? DERSHOWITZ: It's the essential difference between what constitutes a just war and what constitutes an unjust war. Israel is targeting as best they can only terrorists. Now the terrorists --

MORGAN: They killed a whole family yesterday.

DERSHOWITZ: But the reason is because Hamas was firing rockets in order to induce them to kill the whole family. You know what it's called in Gaza? It's called the dead baby strategy. It's a strategy. They want -- this sounds terribly brutal but it's absolutely true. They want their children to be martyred so they can carry them out, show them to the international media and thereby gain an advantage over Israel. It's a double war crime and the media encourages it.

MORGAN: Reza Aslan, your reaction?

REZA ASLAN, AUTHOR, "NO GOD BUT GOD": I think that's a ridiculous and cynical way of talking about what's going on here. The fact of the matter is that you can't talk about civilian and military areas in the most densely packed region on earth. This conflict, the longer it continues, whether a cease-fire is possible or not, the longer it continues the more devastating it's going to be towards Israel. I mean not just the fact that more and more civilians and more children are going to inevitably die, but Israel's legitimacy on the international state is going to continue to deteriorate.

DERSHOWITZ: That's my point.

ASLAN: The -- so that's all the more reason for Israel to do whatever is necessary to stop this conflict.

MORGAN: Why should Israel have to put up with just endless rockets being fired into civilian areas?

ASLAN: It should not.

DERSHOWITZ: So what should it do?

ASLAN: It should not. Look, there's a saying in Israel --

MORGAN: But as Shimon Peres said to me, what is the other option?

ASLAN: There --

MORGAN: What else do they do?

ASLAN: There is another option. There's a saying in Israel when it comes to Gaza, they call it mowing the lawn. It's a recognition, first and foremost, that Hamas is not going to be a sludge. That it is the government of Gaza. It's not going anywhere no matter what anybody wants to do about it. And secondly, that there is no long- term solution, there are only short-term solutions. Every couple of years, we'll just have an aerial bombardment of Gaza as a way of trying to weaken Hamas but, of course, what happens is the opposite occurs. Hamas comes from these -- out of these conflicts more strengthened every time. Meanwhile, the Palestinian Authority which is the legitimate moderate voice amongst Palestinians, a true partner to the Israelis, is becoming increasingly delegitimized by these actions and by the fact that the Israeli government --

MORGAN: And increasingly, many fear, marginalized.

ASLAN: Marginalized. Thrown aside and --

(CROSSTALK)

MORGAN: Mahmoud Abbas is actually being discredited as every hour goes by.

But let me turn now to Mark Perry. You've been in contact with members of Hamas at a senior level. What are they saying?

MARK PERRY, MIDDLE EAST EXPERT: I would have said six hours ago if you had asked me that I thought that a cease-fire was quite possible and that the principles were in place for a cease-fire. But as Arwa Damon said at the top of your broadcast that the two sides now seem to be drifting apart.

Listen, I think the principles for a cease-fire are in place. An end to the siege, that's what Hamas wants. An end to the siege of the targeting of their leadership. What does Israel want? Israel wants Hamas to stop firing rockets, especially the Fajr-5 and the Fajr-3 long-range rockets, at their populations.

Certainly there's a good exchange there. But what it's going to take is Egyptians or somebody, Egyptians are going to be it, providing the security and the guarantees on such -- on such an agreement. That's very hard for the Egyptians to do. They don't want to be responsible for Gaza. So we're going to have to provide -- somebody is going to have to provide inducement for them to do so. I think that's the broad outlines of a cease-fire. A long-term cease-fire. And I think it's very doable.

DERSHOWITZ: But think about the implications of that. It means the good exchange that he talks about is Israel stops doing what's legal, and that is a blockade and killing terrorists, in exchange for Hamas stop doing a double war crime.

(CROSSTALK)

DERSHOWITZ: That's not the way the world should operate.

ASLAN: Let's not talk about -- let's not talk about what's legal and not legal.

DERSHOWITZ: Why not?

ASLAN: Let's talk about what is in Israel's benefit. What is in Israel's benefit and what actually is the alternative that Shimon Peres was asking about was recognizing that they actually share an enemy in Gaza.

MORGAN: OK.

(CROSSTALK)

ASLAN: That the rockets that came out of Gaza --

PERRY: We're not going to --

ASLAN: -- were not all by Hamas.

MORGAN: We have to take a short break. Let's just hold the thought process. Let's come back after the break and discuss it more. It's clearly a very emotive issue.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

MORGAN: Back with me now is Mark Perry, Reza Aslan and Alan Dershowitz.

Alan, one thing that struck me about my interview with Shimon Peres, when he said this. We are very careful with the people of Gaza to try really not to make their lives difficult. Gaza is open. The economic situation has improved.

I don't think that is true, is it? I mean, if you live in the Gaza Strip, you're not thinking it's open or the economy is improved.

DERSHOWITZ: Well, let's remember that it started out completely open. When Israel gave up the Gaza, there were no restrictions whatsoever. Israel left behind farming equipment hoping that the Gaza would be turned into a new Singapore. What happened? The Palestinians destroyed all of that and started sending rockets. Then Israel created a barrier to make sure that arms don't come in.

Right now, the only blockade is an arms blockade. Israel today or yesterday sent 80 truckloads with food, yes, it's poor, but the entire Arab world is poor. In fact the standard of living in Gaza is probably higher than it is in Al Arish which is the next door town in Egypt and it's not the most densely populated. It's one sixth the density of New York City.

So there are a lot of myths going on around Gaza. There are luxury hotels, there are rich people and there are a lot of poor people. But when you start saying that poverty is an excuse for terrorism and sending rockets, the implications for the rest of the world (INAUDIBLE) there are a lot poorer places than Gaza.

MORGAN: Mark Perry, as I said before, you're in contact with Hamas, what in the end do they really hope to achieve? Because they can't blow their way to victory here. They may win a -- a few small skirmishes, battles even, but they're not going to win the war overtime, are they?

PERRY: Well, let's keep in mind the real history here. Hamas is an organization, a political party that won an election in 2006. And we didn't like it that they won the election, and they were undermined. We cut them off, that's where the beginning of the siege was. And Israeli officials at the time, Israeli government officials said that our policy towards Gaza, and I'm quoting, is to put the Palestinians on a diet.

There's malnutrition in Gaza, it's not open. You can talk about the two luxury hotels that are there that serve three or four people. This is an impoverished part of the world that is more deeply impoverished now than before the Israelis made settlements.

(CROSSTALK)

DERSHOWITZ: Does that justify terrorism? Does that justify the rockets?

ASLAN: No, but it is the real -- it is the reality of what's going on here.

MORGAN: You see -- it doesn't --

ASLAN: After a fantastical history --

MORGAN: Here's what I think. It doesn't justify --

PERRY: Here's what Hamas --

MORGAN: Nothing justifies terrorism. But here's the point. If you allow one and a half million people in that kind of condensed area to be impoverished and to feel helpless, they will gravitate in ever larger numbers to anywhere that gives them any sense of hope.

DERSHOWITZ: But in fact a lot of the people of Gaza are not happy about the fact that Hamas fighters are hiding in bunkers that were built for them. Leaving their own civilians to be exposed, firing rockets through the civilian areas.

ASLAN: Of course not. Of course not. Of course not.

DERSHOWITZ: So there's a dispute within Gaza --

(CROSSTALK)

ASLAN: Let's finish -- let's finish the history that Mark was talking about there that's very important.

MORGAN: Let me hear from Reza for a minute.

ASLAN: What Mark said, the whole entire point of isolating and cutting off Gaza, Hamas-controlled Gaza, was to punish them for the election of Hamas, and to say that this kind of intransigence against Israel is not going to be tolerated. While at the same time, we will open up the West Bank, we will reward the moderation and the accommodation of the Palestinian Authority.

The problem is that six years later, the Palestinians living in the West Bank may have a bit of a better economic situation than the Palestinians in Gaza. But they are no closer to any hope of independence or sovereignty than they were six years ago. And what's happened is the more that the Israeli government continues to create a situation where it's impossible to even imagine the possibility of a Palestinian state, the stronger Hamas becomes.

MORGAN: Mark Perry --

ASLAN: And the weaker the Palestinian Authority becomes.

MORGAN: If the Israelis decided to call Hamas' bluff and said tomorrow, right, we're prepared to compromise, we're prepared to do some deals with you, we're prepared to come to the table and treat you like an elected body, rather than a terrorist group, do you have absolute confidence that the people running Hamas would go along with that? Or is there real oxygen of power terror?

PERRY: I've met them and know them well. The head of Hamas is Khaled Meshaal, he's got a PhD in physics, he's very politically savvy. Osama Hamdan, who's their spokesman, has a PhD in chemistry. These are sophisticated articulate deep thinkers, they're not gangsters. The idea that we're dealing with long bearded men who want their own children to die under the rockets of Israel, as Dr. Dershowitz, as Professor Dershowitz said, is just nonsense.

DERSHOWITZ: It's absolutely true. It's part of the tactic. It's part of their strategy.

PERRY: Well, it --

DERSHOWITZ: And they acknowledge it.

PERRY: Don't interrupt -- don't interrupt me. Don't interrupt me. Right now, there's an Israeli in Cairo dealing with the Egyptians who are walking down the hall and talking with Hamas. Israel knows who they're dealing with here. They know quite well who they're dealing with here, and they can make a deal with them. What's wrong with that?

(CROSSTALK)

PERRY: Is there anything wrong with that?

DERSHOWITZ: What's the deal?

ASLAN: By the way, let's not pretend that Israel and Hamas are not speaking to each other.

PERRY: Of course they are.

MORGAN: Well, I for one hope that they are speaking to each other.

ASLAN: They are.

MORGAN: We've got to leave it there for now, gentlemen. Please come back soon because that was a fascinating debate. When we come back, an all-American icon, a preview of our great conversation with Willie Nelson. What keeps him going nearly 80 years old. And if you know Willie Nelson at all, you can probably guess what does keep him going at nearly 80 years old.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

MORGAN: The hits just keep on coming for Willie Nelson. And I don't just mean his songs. Willie is famously a devotee of marijuana, he's remotely un-shy about admitting it. Listen to what he told me when we sat down a little while ago.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

MORGAN: Now when you last did an interview with this show, Larry King was the host.

WILLIE NELSON, SINGER: Yes.

MORGAN: And you admitted to him halfway through that you were actually high at the time? You had infused yourself --

NELSON: Did I do that?

MORGAN: Marijuana. Yes. So I've got to ask you the question, have you come -- similarly infused today?

NELSON: What's today?

(LAUGHTER)

MORGAN: It could be any day you like.

NELSON: No. Yes, OK.

MORGAN: Did you wake up this morning and have a quick -- you know?

NELSON: Well, I probably did. I probably did. If I remember, you know, it's that short term stuff.

(LAUGHTER)

MORGAN: Do you take a lot of it?

NELSON: I think some people have more tolerance, you know, for smoking pot than others. And I know people who can take one hit and just go to sleep completely. And other guys that can smoke a lot. You know, me and Snoop smoke a lot, in every country we've been in, I guess. You know, I was in Amsterdam one time, and Snoop called me and wanted me to sing on his record. And I said OK, he said, where are you? And I said I'm in Amsterdam so he caught the next flight and come over. And we recorded a song together.

MORGAN: You and Snoop go to Amsterdam, the Mecca of dope, really, and you both have a load of it and then write some music together?

NELSON: Now we can go to Colorado.

(LAUGHTER)

(END VIDEO CLIP)

MORGAN: Wouldn't mind joining those two on a little trip to Colorado. You'll see the rest of that interview later this week. It's quite extraordinary.

That's all for us tonight. "AC 360" starts now.