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Interview with Saeb Erekat; Cease-Fire Continues; Hamas Has Made Anti-Semitic Comments

Aired August 5, 2014 - 6:30   ET



MICHAELA PEREIRA, CNN ANCHOR: Good morning and welcome back to NEW DAY.

Here's a look at your headlines at 30 past the hour.

All quiet so far between Israel and Hamas militants in Gaza. A 72- hour ceasefire is underway after weeks of rocket fire and airstrikes. There was one last exchange minutes before the cease-fire took effect this morning.

Israel, meanwhile, has pulled all ground forces from Gaza for the cease-fire after dismantling all of the Hamas tunnels they have targeted.

To Iraq now -- violence is escalating as that country's prime minister orders his Air Force to support Kurdish troops in their battle with Sunni extremists. Kurdish fighters are engaged in house-to-house battles with ISIS, some of the fiercest fighting since the fall of Mosul in June.

In the meantime, the director of the Mosul dam says that dam is now back in the hands of Kurdish forces after fending off an ISIS attack.

The Obama administration is defending a controversial program where young Latinos were reportedly sent under cover to Cuba to try and stir up political change. An "Associated Press" investigation says they would sometimes pose as tourists and others put together an HIV prevention workshop as a cover to recruit Cuban activists. The administration says the workshop promoted democracy, but was not a front for political purposes. Health officials meanwhile say this kind of operation could put other health programs at risk.

Jodi Arias will represent herself at her death penalty trial next month. She was convicted last year in the murder of her lover, Travis Alexander, but a jury could not decide on her sentence. The judge granting her request strongly urged Arias to reconsider her decision to represent herself. Her attorneys will stay on as legal advisers for the penalty trial.

What do you say, attorney? Wise?


PEREIRA: Risky, right?

CUOMO: Never. We all know the old expression, you know, anybody who has themselves as a client has a fool for a client, but, you know, the point is here whether she was seen as competent to do it. You want to make sure that it's fair administration of justice. They say she is able to do it. Whether she should do it, it's up to her.

PEREIRA: She gets to make that decision.


CUOMO: And we will be watching that one, for sure. Big stakes in that one.

BOLDUAN: That's right.

Let's get over to meteorologist Indra Petersons now, taking a look at latest forecast for you.

Indra, we've been talking about Bertha, but what are we talking now?

INDRA PETERSONS, AMS METEOROLOGIST: Still, scattered showers. It really hasn't changed, right, for like much. The last couple weeks, the Southeast, you have the same cold front in place. But, finally, this guy is dissipating. I love to say there's no more rain out there, but not easy. Over in Chicago, you have several inches of rain, the same frontal boundary now making its way into the Ohio Valley.

Look at all of the scattered showers on the map eventually in through tonight and tomorrow and bringing that rain into the Northeast. Now, portions could bring severe weather. South of the Quad Cities, and also around Springfield and St. Louis, that's where we'll have the biggest threat for the heaviest thunderstorms tomorrow, but you did mention Bertha. Finally downgraded, now down to about a tropical storm, moving quickly at north northeast at 22 miles and staying off the coastline. That's the good news. It will continue to stay that way as it continues to move farther north and east.

But, hey, did you know out towards the eastern pacific, you have not had two named storms hit the islands since 1959, but what are we looking at right now. Two storms could potentially hit them in one week. One of them was a category four and now downgraded to a three, expected to hit the islands Thursday at about a tropical storm, and right behind this comes another system.

So, I mean, you're talking since the '50s, you've only had two storms, and now two could be wham bam right a row within one week.

BOLDUAN: Yes, some unusual weather patterns this year already.

PETERSONS: Just a little off right.

BOLDUAN: Just a little off, no vacationing over in Hawaii.

PETERSONS: I'll go to Hawaii. BOLDUAN: That's why you're good at your job.

PETERSONS: Thank you.

BOLDUAN: You want to take the storm.

CUOMO: Or crazy.

You know why it hasn't since the '50s --

PETERSONS: Just very warm water out there, but, of course, it's getting a little cooler as it gets closer --

BOLDUAN: That's good. Thanks, Indra.

CUOMO: Thank you very much, science.

Coming up on NEW DAY, a three-day cease-fire appears to be holding in Gaza, so what happens next? Can all sides come together? If so, what would get a peace deal done?

We're going to speak with a man at a center of one side, the chief Palestinian negotiator.


CUOMO: Welcome back to NEW DAY.

We are now nearly six hours into the latest cease-fire between Israel and Hamas. The pause in the violence is humanitarian. It's supposed to last 72 hours. Well, nothing is more humanitarian than peace so could we be headed in that direction? Negotiations for a long-term peace deal are expected to take place in Cairo. The question is when?

Here to give us some perspective is chief Palestinian negotiator, Mr. Saeb Erekat, from Ramallah, that's in the West Bank.

Mr. Erekat, thank you very much for joining us.

How close do you think you are to having actual peace negotiations?

SAEB EREKAT, CHIEF PALESTINIAN NEGOTIATOR: Well, I think at this stage, Chris what, we need to do is employ all instruments of sustaining the cease-fire for the 72 hours, sustainability is the essence of the game now. And then once the 72 hours are nearing an end we need to extend these 72 hours, and we're working on that now.

But at this stage, we have the Israeli forces begun withdrawing from Gaza, where they should complete their withdrawal, and thirdly, I just met with Mr. Robert Serry of the U.N. and the commissioner general of the United Nations Relief and Work Agency who both informed me that there's a human disaster in Gaza. I'm urging to you, Chris, this morning, the international community, United States, Europe, Arabs, to open immediate passages, aerial, ground, sea to begin supplying Gaza with need. There's no electricity. We cannot wait six months to repair the destroyed generators of electricity, water. We have 485,000 people who left the schools this morning and went back and they found no homes. No shelters. We need immediate temporary shelters for them.

We need -- we have 10,000 wounded in Gaza hospitals beyond the capacity of doctors and militant supplies there. We need medical supplies.

It is a true disaster, humanitarian area in Gaza. What we need now is to see an aerial, sea, land passage from all nations who can do help and just avoid the human disaster and consequences of this.

Once we can sustain the cease-fire and extend the cease-fire, I think our delegation in Cairo has submitted to the Egyptians and agreed with the Egyptians on the immediate steps and then the short-term steps and then the long-term steps towards the situation, not only in Gaza but also the overall relations between Israelis and Palestinians.

CUOMO: Why can't the peace negotiations go hand in hand with the recovery efforts?

EREKAT: Well, I think that's what meant by the day after. The day after does the prime minister of Israel want to put an end to this cycle, or do we have to revisit where we are now again in 2016. In my capacity as the chief negotiator of Palestinians, I say to the Israelis that we have organized the state of Israel's right to exist in peace and security in the 1967 lines.

Can the Israeli prime minister, Mr. Netanyahu, gather the courage and stand tall this morning and say that he will recognize the state of Palestine to live in peace and security next to with the state of Israel in the 1967 lines, because we have been negotiating in a peace process for 20 years. This cannot go on.

The Israeli government must make the choice now. Do they want to end the occupation? Do they want to end the conflict? Do they want to end the cycle? It can be done through one thing, ending the Israeli occupation, killing Palestinians. Yes, we can deliver you towards independence and freedom and statehood through negotiation and not through violence, but if Mr. Netanyahu will just revisit his previous positions more settlement activities, more dictations and asking for security, finding pretext to blame us, and to finger-point at us and to demonize us, then it's business as usual.

What we need now is a genuine international effort led by Americans, Europeans, Russians, U.N., the quartet, in order to assure we have a time ceiling for the emergence of the Palestinian state, a time ceiling for ending the occupation. And we cannot continue to cycling in the same cycles again. We cannot continue allowing our people to be slaughtered every two years by the Israeli army.

CUOMO: And on the other side, there is a concern about the control that you have as the chief Palestinian negotiator over all these disparate factions. We now know that Hamas clearly operates with two heads. You have the

political and the military. They are not often on the same page or even aware of the intentions of the others.

Do you think you can get the jihadi elements, the rebel elements and both sides of Hamas to come to the table under one coalition?

EREKAT: Yes, Chris, yes, I was, and in Doha about two, three days ago I had meetings on behalf of President Abbas with Mr. Meshaal, and we for the first time since Hamas became, you know, we have a Palestinian joint delegation in Cairo. We have a Palestinian program for Cairo talks. I think if we can deliver a Palestinian state and the West Bank, Gaza, and East Jerusalem, yes, we can commit to an authority, one guy, and the rule of law. And that's on us, that's our commitment and we will do it, but if people --

CUOMO: Even though Hamas still says --


EREKAT: Wait, wait -- what, yes, go ahead.

CUOMO: But you do have to deal with one outstanding principle which is that Hamas publicly and inwardly says Israel does not have a right to exist. That has to be taken off the table for negotiations, right?

EREKAT: Well -- OK. No, sir. Sir, the PLO, Palestinian Liberation Organization, is the sole legitimate representative of the Palestinian people. We have 26 Palestinian factions and parties, and the government of the state of Palestine, the president of the Palestinian, Mr. Mahmoud Abbas, we recognize the state of Israel's right to exist under the 1967 lines and Israel, there are Israeli parties in this coalition government who will not only don't recognize the Palestinian state or the possibility of a Palestinian state. They don't recognize the Palestinian people, but we don't ask them to do recognize us parties. We ask the government of Israel, so the government of Palestine is fully on board in recognizing the state of Israel, provided that we have reciprocity from the prime minister of Israel to stand up and say we realize that the Palestinians, that the government of Palestine recognizes the state of Israel's right to exist on 1967 lines.

We do recognize the state of Palestine right to exist next to Israel and peace and security in the 1967 lines. Once we can achieve the end of occupation, once we can achieve statehood, of course, when we differ with Hamas or with democracy, we don't resort to bullets. We have to resort to ballots, to elections and that's the truth. So once we can deliver our people out of this situation, disastrous situation towards the best of hope, restoring hope in the minds of Palestinians today is a big job. By telling them, yes, you'll be delivered towards independence, freedom, dignified life. Safe flight through peaceful means, and you will get your independence there. At that moment, we will commit. We are committing from now to one authority, the one gun and the (inaudible), but you can't expect Israel to continue its occupation and settlements, incursions, dictations, burning our trees, schools, mosques, churches and then come and ask me what are you going to do with factions?

CUOMO: I understand what you are setting out as your position and we'll end this the way we began which is you say that what you need for there to be a chance for a permanent peace negotiation is a current state of calm. So hopefully on your side of the line you can keep all of the groups under one roof and without any rockets getting shot in so that you can have extended peace, the Israeli troops leave, and then hopefully we look forward to this next step of negotiations and hopefully they go somewhere that's far more permanent than two years but it has been a longtime, as you said. Mr. Erekat, thank you for coming on NEW DAY. We look forward to keeping in touch with you and get both sides of this story out as the negotiations go forward, we hope. Thank you for joining us.

EREKAT: Thank you.

CUOMO: Coming up on NEW DAY, as if the road to peace wasn't rough enough after what you just heard, it's very complicated. There are now these disgusting anti-semitic comments from the spokesman for Hamas which goes to the crux of the problem on that side of the line. Can you get everybody under one message? He isn't backing down. We're going to tell you what he said to Wolf and others.

And on the other side, not only do you have Israel doing this, but you have supporters of Israel. You have New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg, the former mayor. He's been one of Israel's staunchest supporters. He's going to join us live, make the case for peace from that perspective.


BOLDUAN: Welcome back to NEW DAY. The cease-fire is holding as of now this morning between Israel and Hamas, but can lasting peace be achieved when there is so much hatred on both sides of this conflict? Recently a Hamas spokesman, Osama Hamdan, made this comment about Jewish people. He said I the following, I'll read it to you, "We all remember how the Jews used to slaughter Christians in order to mix their blood in their holy matzah. This is not a figment of imagination or something taken from a film. It is a fact acknowledged by their own books and historical evidence." Yes, he said that. On Monday, Hamdan would not take back that comment in an interview with Wolf Blitzer. Here's just a little bit of it.


WOLF BLITZER, CNN ANCHOR: So do you believe that Jews used to slaughter Christians and mix their blood to bake matzah?

OSAMA HAMDAM, SPOKESMAN FOR HAMAS: You have to ask that for the church which claims that, you know, this is the fact. You cut the words, not you, the Israelis, and memory. They cut the facts and they start this propaganda. To say that they are innocent. They want to cover the genocide which is happening in Gaza now.


BOLDUAN: And Wolf gave him multiple chances, pressed him multiple times and gave him multiple opportunities to deny that. He did not. Can a truce really last amid inflammatory, baseless accusations and allegations like this? Let's bring in Bobby Ghosh, managing editor of "Quartz" to discuss this and kind of the state of play. But Bobby, these are the guys that are going to be sitting down at the table together? Does this surprise you? It blew my mind.

BOBBY GHOSH, MANAGING EDITOR OF "QUARTZ": It is not surprising if you spend time in Palestine. The idea of blood libel is very commonly accepted by a lot of Palestinians, mainly because they don't know any better. They are taught that from when they are very young and don't have the opportunity to correct themselves. Hamdan doesn't have that excuse, he's an educated man exposed to the world outside and he certainly has had plenty of opportunities to fact check himself. The fact that he still says things - -

BOLDUAN: And saying it right now in the middle of all of this.

GHOSH: It just shows you the extent of the hate. Mind you, it cuts both ways. There are people on Palestinian sides who have been calling for -- on the Israeli side who have been calling for Palestinian mothers to be killed, for Palestinian women to be raped, for concentration camps, so the amount of people is enormous.

BOLDUAN: I do want to get to that, but the fact that he's bringing up the blood libel, which has such a painful history with the Jewish people. I mean, this accusation, this ridiculous thought dates back to the 12th century and has been the pretext for violence against the Jewish people forever.

GHOSH: It is the root of anti-semitism, it has been the root of anti- semitism in Europe, this concept of blood libel, and it's nonsense but in the Arab world and particularly in Palestine --

BOLDUAN: What does it get him?

GHOSH: Its a dog whistle to his own people. I have to assume that Hamdan knows better. I have to assume, given the exposure he's had to the world, he knows it's not true. The fact that he keeps saying things like this and not deny it when he's had an opportunity to do so has got to be a dog whistle to his own people back in Gaza. Remember, he's not in Gaza. He's outside the political leadership outside. They are out of touch with the man in the street. The only halfway rational end, its not very rational explanation I can think of, is this is his trying to make some kind of connection back to the streets in Gaza. It is completely counterproductive. As you point out this is not the way you approach the negotiating table.

BOLDUAN: Absolutely not. I mean, he went back to Wolf saying that he was actually speaking in response to follow this, if you will, the deputy speaker of the Knesset, the Israeli parliament, writing in a Facebook post that he had called for tent encampments in Gaza. Hamdan likened it to wanting them to put concentration camps in Gaza. But regardless, one incendiary comment does not excuse another ridiculous one. Does this just tell you that long term, a long-term peace is not possible?

GHOSH: Well, if you want to look at the glass half full, and it's not easy, but it's better that they are exchanging incendiary comments than they're exchanging guns and bombs. At least now the cease-fire gives us an opportunity to get past the shooting and to start with the talking. Now, it -- we've seen this movie before when the talking starts. It will actually start with shouting and then the challenge for the intermediaries, for the diplomats, for John Kerry and the others is to get everyone to calm the hell down and start actually having a conversation.

BOLDUAN: How do you calm the hell down? What do you think is different, if anything, this time this cease-fire, because these comments, unfortunately, you have to fight them down every time because blood libel is an allegation that has come up over and over again despite how many times Jews, non-Jews, everyone alike says how ridiculous it is.

GHOSH: It is hard. The fact that people who know better will still say things like that.

BOLDUAN: That's the worst part.

GHOSH: That's the worst part, that is what makes it hardest of all. Hamdan has to know better. It's not possible unless he just refuses to look for the facts. He's got to know better.

BOLDUAN: Is this bark over bite though? Do you think - - he knows what he's doing. Let's just say it. He knows what he's doing.

GHOSH: He's a professional spokesman, of course he knows.

BOLDUAN: He knows what he's doing, but do you think they can still negotiate even though he's saying something like that?

GHOSH: Happily he won't be the one negotiating. He's just a mouth piece, but it begins in a spirit of hostility, and it -- it sort of shows us how deep the roots are of the anger and rage and hatred and how irrational most of the hatred is. So it gives us a window into the scale of the problem that the diplomats are now going to have to encounter. This isn't over. We have a cease-fire now. We're all keeping our fingers crossed, but this isn't over yet. The long-term solutions involve getting people to -- to drop these kinds of attitudes and that's -- that's taken centuries of trying and hasn't quite worked. Its taken more recently decades of diplomatic efforts and hasn't quite worked. I would love to say that I want to be optimistic. It's hard to be optimistic given what we've seen in the past and given attitudes like this one.

BOLDUAN: Difficult enough when you see what has happened in Gaza just over the past month how they are going to come to a truce, come to a sustained peace, but then when you add this into, it just sounds so difficult.

GHOSH: Its bad enough there is blood, and now there is blood libel as well. It's not a good combination.

BOLDUAN: Bobby, thanks so much.

GHOSH: Any time. BOLDUAN: Alright, we'll talk to you soon.


CUOMO: And what's going on with the Christians is probably an underreported story and there's plenty of blame to go around there.

Just about the top of the hour, the top story of course, the cease- fire holding between Israel and Hamas. Now it's six hours into the 72-hour truce. The longer it goes, the better chance negotiations will occur for permanent peace. After weeks of fighting between Israel and Hamas, both sides are now expected in Cairo for negotiations on a longer deal. The Palestinians are there already. The Israelis say they will go if the cease-fire holds.

Right now Israeli ground troops are being pulled back from Gaza after dismantling all of the Hamas terror tunnels that they targeted. CNN's Anderson Cooper has the latest from along the Israel-Gaza border this morning. Anderson, what's the situation?

ANDERSON COOPER, CNN ANCHOR: Yes, Chris, good morning. I'm in Ashkelon which is a few miles northeast of the Gaza border where it has been peaceful this day. As you say, some six hours now into this cease-fire. There have been no signs of any rockets fired from Gaza, no signs of -- of open hostilities. That obviously a huge change from what we've seen from all the previous cease-fires. As you said, Israel, they have removed all their personnel, all their troops over to the Israeli side of the border. They are maintaining what they call defensive positions.

Here in Ashkelon, there were some sirens last night during nighttime hours shortly before the cease-fire, but there has been nothing since then. In fact, some people -- this is a beach community, some tourists have actually started going to the water.