DATE February 15, 2006 ACCOUNT NUMBER N/A
TIME 12:00 Noon-1:00 PM AUDIENCE N/A
PROGRAM Fresh Air
Interview: The New York Times Jerusalem correspondent Greg Myre
discusses Hamas and the potential future for Palestinians
TERRY GROSS, host:
This is FRESH AIR. I'm Terry Gross.
The new members of the Palestinian parliament will be sworn in on Saturday.
The majority of the seats will be held by members of Hamas, the radical
Islamist group whose charter calls for the destruction of Israel. The US
considers Hamas a terrorist group. Israel and the US are trying to figure out
how to deal with Hamas. Meanwhile, Israelis go to the polls March 28th.
Prime Minister Ariel Sharon remains in a coma, and it's unclear how much power
the centrist party he recently founded, Kadima, will have without him. My
guest, Greg Myre, has been covering the Middle East for six years. He's a
Jerusalem correspondent for The New York Times. I spoke with him this
Yesterday your colleague from The New York Times, Steven Erlanger wrote that
the US and Israel are said to be talking about ways of distabilizing Hamas
with the hopes, ultimately, of ousting Hamas. He wrote the intention is to
starve the new Palestinian Authority of money and international connections to
the point where some months from now the president of the Palestinian
Authority would be compelled to call a new election. The hope is that
Palestinians will be so unhappy with life under Hamas that they will return to
office a reformed and chastened Fatah movement. American officials have
denied trying to oust Hamas. They say they would cut off aid, but the goal
isn't to oust Hamas. What has reaction been in Israel?
Mr. GREG MYRE (Jerusalem Correspondent, The New York Times): Along the same
lines. I mean, Israel is saying there is no such plot, that they don't have
that plan, but they are certainly talking about lots of ways to make life
difficult for Hamas government. They're saying very soon, perhaps as soon as
Saturday when the new Palestinian parliament is sworn in, that they will
consider it to be a Hamas government. And at that point, a lot of things
could take effect, including a cutoff of funds, further limiting of travel,
things like that.
So Israel and a lot of other countries as well are still trying to formulate a
policy with this Hamas government coming to power. And we still have to wait
and see what's going to happen. But Israel, again, is denying that they have
such a plan to force the ouster of the Hamas government. But they're
certainly thinking about and talking about a lot of things to make life very
GROSS: Have you heard any reaction from Hamas?
Mr. MYRE: The Hamas reaction has been that these were democratic elections
that the United States and the West has been calling for for quite some time,
and it should be respected. And they're saying it would be completely unjust
and improper to then start trying to undermine or in some way force
capitulation of a democratically elected government. They say this is what
the West has been asking the Palestinians to do, and they've done it. That
decision should be respected.
GROSS: If the United States and Israel, you know, basically cut off Hamas,
Hamas can possibly go to Iran and other Islamic states for support. How close
is Hamas to Iran now?
Mr. MYRE: There's certainly been contacts for a long time. I recall even
being in Iran in the mid-90s, and they had representatives and an office there
and people there. So they've had links to the Iranian leadership for quite
some time. That's not new. The depth and strength of that tie's always been
open to question. The Hamas leader in exile, Khaled Mashaal, has met with the
Iranian leadership fairly recently. So there are longstanding existing ties.
We'll have to see exactly how strong those ties become and will the Iranians
be willing to put up, literally, tens of millions of dollars as the kind of
money that a Palestinian government would need if it gets cut off from Israel
and the United States.
GROSS: Hamas has said that it can't recognize Israel, but it can accept a
truce and live side by side with Israel and refer all of these issues to the
coming generations. Does Hamas have conditions before it would be willing to
live by such a truce?
Mr. MYRE: Right. The Hamas position, they've said this for some time now,
many years in fact, is that if Israel would withdraw to the 1967 borders,
Hamas would be willing to accept the creation of a Palestinian state and a
long-term truce with Israel. From Israel's side, this is a complete
nonstarter. These are the kinds of things that would be negotiated if there
were negotiations. How far Israel might pull back in the West Bank. So
Israel says, `Well, these are the kinds of things we have to negotiate. These
are not the kinds of things we're going to do in advance.' Israel also says
that `if we make concessions, we'd want a peace treaty, a permanent peace
treaty that recognizes Israel, that accepts its existence, that accepts its
borders, not a sort of long-term truce as Hamas talks about that could be
broken at another time.' Israelis would say this is just a way for Hamas to
look a little more moderate, that they're willing to accept some sort of
compromise, but they would say it's really trying to push the same Hamas idea
of eliminating or destroying Israel, but just doing it in stages, going back
to the '67 borders, and then future generations would seek to further reduce
or eliminate Israel.
GROSS: If there isn't a truce between Hamas and Israel, what's the other
Mr. MYRE: Well, something in-between, perhaps. And that's what we really
don't know. Now for the past year, Hamas has abided by, largely, this, as
they're calling it, tidea, calm in Arabic. And Hamas has not carried out any
major attacks in the past year. It's quite possible that this sort of
arrangement could carry on either informally or perhaps in a slightly more
formal way with Hamas people in the leadership. It's hard to imagine that
they have anything to gain in the short term by carrying out renewed attacks.
So the mostly likely scenario, at least for the moment, and even the Israeli
security officials acknowledge this, that Hamas has basically been abiding by
this truce. So we could see this kind of truce, even though Hamas government
and Israeli government are not talking to each other, not having any real
relations. There could be a fair amount of quiet. The complicating factor
would be some of the other factions, like Islamic Jihad, which has not been
party to the truce and which has carried out a half dozen or so suicide
bombings in the past year. If they continue to act and to carry out attacks,
what will Hamas do? Will Hamas try to stop them? Hamas has given no
indication, in fact, says they won't. And then how would Israel respond to an
attack carried out by another group? Would they target Hamas and Hamas
leadership? So that, I think, is probably the kind of scenario, the most
likely scenario we could be looking at in the coming days and weeks.
GROSS: There seems to be a little bit of re-evaluation of what the Hamas
victory means. For example, the Palestinian pollster Khalil Shikaki says that
Hamas won only 44 percent of the popular vote, although got 56 percent of the
seats. In a lot of districts, Fatah ran several candidates against each
other, and they split the Fatah vote, whereas Hamas ran only one candidate in
each district. So is there a re-evaluation now of what the victory actually
Mr. MYRE: Well, it's not going to change the results. Hamas has a very
clear, solid majority and can govern alone if they wish to do so. But it does
show what a disciplined, organized campaign Hamas ran and what a rather
disorganized campaign Fatah ran in many ways. One constituency in particular,
Fatah had its formal candidate and then eight or nine people who were linked
to Fatah running, and Hamas had one candidate. Well, the one Hamas candidate
ran while all the Fatah-linked people split the vote. And so we had seen
this, and if Fatah had just run one candidate in many districts, they would
have won a much larger number of seats. It could have been a very close
election in that case. That might be an argument for having both Fatah and
Hamas in the government together, and Hamas says they would welcome Fatah and
other parties in the government. But Fatah says they want to be in the
opposition at this stage. So I think the result will be that Hamas will very
much dominate the government. They may include a few independents, a few
smaller parties, but they are very much going to dominate the government,
despite this result, which didn't give them such a large victory, just in
terms of raw number of votes.
GROSS: Does it seem like Fatah will willingly give up power to Hamas, or is
there any chance that there will be armed fighting between Fatah and Hamas?
Right now, Fatah controls the security forces. Hamas has armed militias.
Mr. MYRE: Very interesting question. I would make a distinction there. I
think it's very clear Fatah is going to give up power. The Palestinians have
gone through a number of these transitions in the past year. I trace it all
the way back to Yasser Arafat's death in November of 2004. They had a very
smooth transition and an election. They had municipal elections all last year
where Fatah mayors were voted out of office and Hamas mayors were voted in.
They've had this parliamentary election last month. All of these things have
gone quite smoothly without any major unrest or major trouble. And the Fatah
leadership is totally respecting the results of this election and seems ready
to step aside. So on that front, I think it's very clear, a Hamas government,
Hamas-led government, will come to power here fairly shortly. Now, on the
other question about young armed Fatah supporters running around in the
streets and Fatah members of the security forces, how will they respond to
Hamas government or to Hamas leading the security forces? That's still a bit
of an open question here.
It's been three weeks since the election now. We haven't had any serious
internal trouble. But it's coming to the crunch time in terms of how are the
security forces going to be led because security forces are made up largely of
Fatah members and supporters with Fatah commanders. And this could change
quite dramatically. Hamas may want to bring its own members into the security
forces. It certainly wants to lead part of the security forces at least. The
Palestinian leader, Mahmoud Abbas, has authority over the security forces as
well. How are they going to divide these responsibilities? So all of these
weapons, both that are just among gunmen in the streets and among members of
the security forces, keeping those under control has not been resolved yet.
Although I would say we've had three weeks since the elections without major
trouble. That could be seen as a fairly positive thing.
GROSS: Has there been a history of armed fighting between Hamas and Fatah?
Mr. MYRE: There has. It has come and gone in some fairly brief periods.
Whenever there is an incident, it may be somebody gets shot. The security
forces arrest them, Hamas people, and that causes a shooting or a gunman from
Hamas and Fatah clash. It's tended to be very brief and the lid has been kept
on things. So I wouldn't get overly excited if I saw a single incident or a
couple of incidents. And we haven't really even seen that in the past few
weeks. But I think there is a long-term question, just how are you going to
deal with all of these armed groups and how is Hamas going to deal with it
because the armed men in the streets used to be largely supportive. Members
are linked to Fatah, and now they're not going to be linked to the government,
which will be Hamas. Hamas says they're not going to oppose Palestinian
resistance, but they also are very adamant that they want to exercise greater
control and discipline in the Palestinian streets, that there's been a lot of
chaos, the security forces have not operated properly. So we'll have to see
how Hamas wants to deal with these gunmen in the streets which the Fatah
government has basically allowed to roam free.
GROSS: My guest is Greg Myre, Jerusalem correspondent for The New York Times.
We'll talk more after a break. This is FRESH AIR.
GROSS: (Technical difficulties)...was when people thought that Fatah just
wasn't very competent at running the government and, two, that Hamas has
provided a lot of social services for Palestinians. What kind of social
services? What had you seen of that part of Hamas?
Mr. MYRE: Well, you see it in a lot of ways. You'll see it in health
clinics, which Hamas runs for free, in assistance programs where they provide
food, schools that they run as well. It's particularly noticeable in the Gaza
Strip, which is Hamas' stronghold, which is a very poor area. Community
services they provide that they run out of the mosque in many instances. So
Hamas did have this reputation, and they'd even strengthened it a little bit
in the past year, I'd say, when Hamas mayors and municipal councils have been
taken over by Hamas through elections. And in several instances, they've
received pretty high marks from the people for just providing basic services,
cleaning up the garbage, doing things like this that was not getting done
under Fatah leadership in the local areas. So I think this is one area where
Hamas is going to concentrate on and feel that they can make a quick visible,
tangible improvement in the lives of Palestinians, just in terms of restoring
order on the streets, cleaning up the streets, providing these kinds of
services where the Palestinians feel Fatah just didn't deliver. They had a
decade or more in power and just were not providing the kinds of services
GROSS: The Hamas charter, you know, calls for the destruction of Israel. It
describes the struggle against the Jews as a religious obligation for every
Muslim. So I know Hamas thinks that Israel has no right to exist and that all
Jews need to get out of the land that Hamas considers to be Palestinian land.
How anti-Jewish in general is it? Does Hamas stand opposed to Israeli policy
or to all Jewish people in general?
Mr. MYRE: Well, they're absolutely and unequivocally opposed to a Jewish
state. You will hear various Hamas leaders make various statements about what
that might mean, but basically the one thing they don't compromise on is
saying the existence of a Jewish state or a state of Israel in this land, in
the Middle East. They will say, for example, that they could tolerate Jewish
people living here, but again, in an Islamic state. And that Israel as a
state needs to cease to exist and that they want the Jewish people to leave
this area. That's their line. Now when you question them and ask them,
`Well, that is entirely unrealistic, that that's not going to happen,' some
people joke about Hamas and their 1,000-year plan, that Hamas just feels
slowly, slowly, slowly this is something they will do over time and that
they're not trying to end the Jewish state tomorrow. But it's something that
they will seek in the long term.
GROSS: On Saturday, the new members of the Palestinian parliament are
scheduled to be sworn in. About 10 percent of the new legislators are
actually in Israeli prisons. So what happens to their seats?
Mr. MYRE: Right. Well, they're going to remain empty. That's for sure.
Israel's certainly not going to let them out and have their seat. There's 132
seats and there was 15, I believe, Palestinian legislators who were elected
that are in jail. I think one actually got released today, a Hamas leader in
the West Bank. Brings us to 14. Still over 10 percent. But the more
pressing issue, I think, is you have roughly a little more than half of the
legislators in the West Bank, a little less than half down in Gaza. They're
not going to be able to meet in the same place. Israel has made it very clear
they're not going to allow wanted Hamas people to travel back and forth. So
the center of gravity of Palestinian politics is going to be very much to
Gaza. Yasser Arafat initially moved back and forth, and the Palestinians had
a legislature and sort of the president's office in both Gaza City and in
Ramallah in the West Bank. Arafat was confined to Ramallah for the last three
years of his life, and that very much kept all politics sort of in Ramallah
and very little politically happened in the Gaza Strip. Now we're going to
see a switch because the Hamas leadership is in Gaza, but they can't leave.
The president, Mahmoud Abbas, is in Ramallah. He can travel back and forth,
but he's still centered very much in Ramallah. So we're going to see some
just awkward situations. In the past couple of years, we've seen parliament
carried out by video conference, where legislators met in Gaza City and in
Ramallah, at the two parliament buildings, and were connected via video
conference. Looks like that's what we're going to see again. But it's going
to be a very awkward arrangement to say the least.
GROSS: If you're just joining, my guest is Greg Myre. He's the Jerusalem
correspondent for The New York Times.
Israel feels it has no negotiating partner with Hamas because Hamas won't
negotiate with Israel, and Hamas won't even recognize Israel. So what are
some of Israel's options now since it has no negotiating partner in Hamas?
Mr. MYRE: Right. Israel is saying that three things will have to happen
before it will consider having any contacts with Hamas. One, that a Hamas
government would have to recognize Israel. Number two, it would have to
disavow violence. And number three, it would have to accept the previous
agreement signed between Israel and the Palestinian Authority. Now it doesn't
look like Hamas is really going to do any of those things, and I think that's
pretty much the expectation of Israel. So I don't see any immediate or
short-term solution to that sort of log jam. I can't see there being any real
They may find some formula to work out some practical issues. For example,
the electricity and the water supply in the West Bank and Gaza are controlled
by Israel. It's the Israeli electricity and water system. So they may find
that an Israeli government can deal with some non-Hamas officials in the
Palestinian Authority to deal with some of these practical issues that need to
be dealt with. But in terms of a political dialogue or restarting peace
talks, very hard to see how there's going to be any contact there.
There is some talk Hamas may try to put in place some technocrats and people
who are not formally part of the organization in some positions. Like perhaps
a foreign minister, for example. And get around it that way. But Israel is
really not buying that. They're saying, if it's a Hamas government led by
Hamas, we're not going to be dealing with somebody who may not be a formal
part of the group at this point. So I don't see any real way forward at this
moment in terms of a political dialogue.
GROSS: Greg Myre is Jerusalem correspondent for The New York Times. Our
conversation was recorded earlier today. He was in a studio in Jerusalem.
We'll hear more in the second half of the show. I'm Terry Gross, and this is
(Soundbite of music)
GROSS: Coming up, rock critic Ken Tucker tells us about a Web site which
collects video of vintage rock, soul and funk performances. And we continue
our conversation with Greg Myre, Jerusalem correspondent for The New York
GROSS: This is FRESH AIR. I'm Terry Gross, back with more of our interview
with Greg Myre, Jerusalem correspondent for The New York Times.
We've been talking about Hamas' political victory in the Palestinian
elections. The new members of parliament will be sworn in on Saturday. Hamas
charter calls for the destruction of Israel, and the organization remained
unwilling to negotiate with Israel. Israel has already started certain
unilateral actions like pulling out of Gaza and like starting to build a
separation barrier in the West Bank between Israel and Palestinian territory.
What further unilateral action do you think Israel might be considering now?
Mr. MYRE: Right. I think first of all that is the most likely scenario,
that Israel will look to act unilaterally. Israel, of course, has its own
national elections coming up on March 28th, and the centrist Kadima Party is
very much the favorite. Ehud Olmert, who took over for Ariel Sharon, is
leading that party, and he's certainly hinting at unilateral steps. I think
that the thing we'll see most immediately is Israel's speeding up its work on
this separation barrier in the West Bank. It's less than half complete.
Israel keeps putting off a date for finishing it, but I think Olmert has
really stressed that he wants to speed up work on that, and I think we will
see that, and that may not be completed this year or even next year. But I
think that's what Israel's talking about. So I think we will see more work on
The larger question then becomes what about those Israeli settlements that are
beyond the separation barrier. It seems that of the quarter million or so
settlers in the West Bank, you might have 60, 70,000 who are beyond the
barrier. Does that mean Israel is thinking about pulling them back? Well,
certainly, that's the speculation. We don't know. Ehud Olmert has not said.
I think we'll get some more clarity after an election takes place, but I think
that's the question. Will Israel look to start unilaterally pulling out some
of the settlers who are beyond the separation barrier?
GROSS: What is the political dialogue about this now? Like in Israel, I
mean, the elections are scheduled for the end of May. Ariel Sharon, the prime
minister, is still in a coma. Ehud Olmert is the acting prime minister.
Sharon had just started a new centrist party called Kadima. So what are,
like, the major differences now between the centrists and the people on the
right and the left?
Mr. MYRE: Right. Ehud Olmert in leading the Kadima Party has not defined
exactly what he will do very clearly. And this new party that was just
created by Ariel Sharon in November, a month before he had his first stroke,
and then before he had his more serious stroke, it's brought in people from
both the right wings, some very hard-line right wing members, and it's also
brought in people like Shimon Peres. So it's a pretty diverse group, and
they've tried not to define too precisely what they're going to do. There's a
very broad, general assumption that, yes, they will look to take some
unilateral actions. The one thing that Olmert says is that he wants to define
Israel's permanent borders, and that's largely assumed to mean something along
the separation barrier, or very close to it, as is his idea of Israel's
borders. But they don't go into too many specifics during this campaign, and
this has shaken things up on both the right and the left.
The right wing Likud Party, which Ariel Sharon led and which has been a very
leading force in Israeli politics for many years, has really suffered a
complete crash in its poll numbers and looks to be maybe the third largest
party. And they're trying to figure out where they're placing themselves now.
The old position of Benjamin Netanyahu, the leader of Likud, says `no
territorial compromises without the Palestinians also making concessions,
without an agreement where both sides get something.' But Likud is having a
very difficult time trying to place itself as a right wing party.
On the left in Israel, the Labor Party, is talking a lot about social issues,
about the gap between rich and poor Israelis and trying to make that an
election issue, but not getting a lot of traction. So right at the moment,
this centrist Kadima Party is very far ahead in the polls and seems to be
doing very well without having to define itself too precisely but with the
assumption it will start taking some sort of unilateral steps after the
GROSS: Now Kadima wants to withdraw to approximately the boundaries before
the war of 1967. What would that mean?
Mr. MYRE: Well, the 1967 borders would make a quite considerable contraction
of what a lot of Israelis have thought that they would end up with, and at the
moment, there are 250,000 settlers in the West Bank and that doesn't include
East Jerusalem, where there are another 200,000 or more Israelis. And Israel
annexed East Jerusalem. So you're looking at 450,000 or so Israelis who are
living beyond those 1967 borders in what was the West Bank. We saw last
summer how difficult it was for Israel just to remove 9,000 from the Gaza
Strip, and now we're talking about a figure, you know, much, much larger of
that in the West Bank. I think, again, if there was a point of general
consensus here at the moment, it's that Israel says it will hold the major
settlement blocks. Much of these are just across the '68 borders in East
Jerusalem or Ma'ale Adumim, which is a big settlement just further east, the
Gush Etzion block to the south of Jerusalem.
So some of these main settlement blocks is what Israel is talking about
keeping, and this would include the bulk of those West Bank settlers. And the
separation barrier that is being built, under its current route, and it keeps
getting adjusted a little bit one way or another, would take up roughly,
roughly 10 percent of the West Bank. And so that would leave 90 percent of
the West Bank which would seemingly be for a Palestinian state. Now the
Palestinians say that is not going to be good enough by any means, that that
10 percent of land that remains is good land, it's important land, it's good
farm land, water resources are there, and most importantly, it includes East
Jerusalem. So that's not going to be a solution acceptable to the
Palestinians, but it seems to point in the general direction which things may
GROSS: My guest is Greg Myre, Jerusalem correspondent for The New York Times.
We'll talk more after a break. This is FRESH AIR.
GROSS: My guest is Greg Myre, Jerusalem correspondent for The New York Times.
Israel has unilaterally pulled out of Gaza. How often have you been to Gaza
since the pullout?
Mr. MYRE: Quite frequently. Regularly since then.
GROSS: How has it changed?
Mr. MYRE: Well, you're free to move around Gaza. You don't go halfway
through there and run into an Israeli checkpoint. The freedom of movement
within Gaza is there now. Now Israel still controls the borders, and the
Palestinians say therefore not that much has changed. It's difficult for the
Palestinians to really develop an economy, to maintain any real sort of normal
lifestyle because Gaza is a small, confined place. It's only about six, seven
miles wide, about 25 miles long. And Gaza has to deal with the outside world.
But within Gaza, the level of tension is down somewhat because there are no
Israelis inside Gaza itself.
The settlements that were evacuated, which made up about 20 percent of the
land there, not a lot has happened. The 1500 settlement homes that Israelis
lived in have been torn down and mostly are still sitting there. The one
thing we've seen is that the Palestinians have taken over these large
greenhouses that the Israelis left behind. The Palestinians repaired them,
fixed them up quite quickly, grew a winter crop, are harvesting that winter
crop, but then we get back to the other problem of the borders. They have to
get those crops out. It's flowers and strawberries and cherry tomatoes which
go to Israel and to Europe and to the Arab world. And we had a problem at the
Carney crossing, the place where these goods are exported. Israel said that a
tunnel was being dug and that an attack was being planned on Carney. It was
closed for three weeks. The Palestinians complains saying, `Millions of
dollars worth of our produce were ruined, rotted while it was waiting to be
exported.' And so we're seeing some problems.
There was also a shooting incident up at the northern crossing out of Gaza
where 5,000 Palestinians were still allowed to come out of Gaza and work in
Israel each day. That caused a temporary closure. So the Palestinians are
still not able to move outside of Gaza, but Israel says this is because
they're continuing to carry out attacks.
GROSS: How long have you been covering Israel and the Palestinians?
Mr. MYRE: About six years now.
GROSS: What are some of the biggest changes you've seen in those six years?
Mr. MYRE: Well, I think the main one would just be the atmosphere and the
freedom of movement. When I arrived at the beginning of 2000, you could drive
around and not know whether you're in Israel or the West Bank. You rarely saw
soldiers. There were no real checkpoints. So you could move about quite,
quite freely between the West Bank and Israel at that time. A hundred and
fifty thousand Palestinians would come into Israel every day to work. The
economies were very much integrated at that point.
It seemed like there was momentum towards some sort of peace agreement, even
if not immediately, within the next couple of years. And now there's just
this total division. It's very, very difficult for a Palestinian in the West
Bank or Gaza to come into Israel. Israelis who used to go to the West Bank,
maybe on a Saturday, to shop or have lunch, have completely stopped that type
of thing. There was the notion that the two sides could live together,
separate states perhaps, but still live together and interact. That notion,
for the time being at least, has certainly been cut off. I think even
Israelis, who say they're very interested in a peace agreement, still want a
full separation from the Palestinians now. `They're over there. We're over
here.' That's the kind of thing you'll hear an Israeli say. And that's been
the biggest change in the past few years.
GROSS: How much access have you had to the leadership of Hamas?
Mr. MYRE: The Hamas leadership has been pretty accessible in the sort of
informal way that they operate. To see the top Hamas leaders down in Gaza
City, which is where most of them have been, you would literally go and knock
on their doors and wait for them or catch them at the mosque after they'd
prayed. And even after they won the elections and perhaps surprising even
themselves, this was still the way they operated. To get their top leaders,
even at times when Israel was carrying out air strikes and killing some Hamas
leaders, at times it would certainly go into hiding and stop answering their
cell phones. But I remember certainly any number of times when you would
just, you know, knock on their door, wait, and one of their kids would answer
and invite you into the house.
And that's still how they operate. They don't have a main office on Gaza.
They literally, to a large extent, run their operation from the homes of their
leaders. And you catch them there, and they hold their press conferences in
their living rooms of their homes. And they have been pretty available.
Again at times when Israel's carrying out air strikes, they become a little
more scarce, but they're still around, they're there, and they're willing to
talk, and we'll have to see how this relationship develops as they become a
government and whether they put layers of bureaucracy between themselves and
GROSS: In one of your recent articles, you wrote about a Hamas leader named
Dr. Mahmoud Zahar. Am I saying his name correctly?
Mr. MYRE: Zahar. Mahmoud Zahar. Uh-huh.
GROSS: He's a surgeon and a senior leader of Hamas. And he was asked about
his medical specialty. Was it you who asked that question?
Mr. MYRE: Yes, it was.
GROSS: Tell us what happened.
Mr. MYRE: Well, it was a couple of years ago, at a time when there was very
intense violence and a lot going on. I was sitting in the living room of his
home and just asking him a little bit about his background. I knew he was a
surgeon, and I asked him what his specialty was. And he said, `Thyroids. I'm
very good at cutting throats.' And a big smile came across his face, and I
think he knew he was dealing with the Western media and likes to play a little
bit off his reputation. I don't know how you interpret that. This is not a
guy who likes to joke a lot, but he seemed pretty happy to joke about that. A
few months later, I might add, the house where I was sitting in at that time
was bombed by the Israelis, and one of his sons, I can't remember his exact
age, was killed. His wife was injured. Zahar himself was hurt.
The Hamas leadership is made up of people who are very well-educated like
Zahar who is a doctor. Their leader in exile is a physicists. They have
others who are highly educated, but who are also very much supportive of the
program they've carried out and are completely behind their bombing campaign
that they've carried out. So there can be some dissidents there between
sitting and talking to people who are very highly educated and very
thoughtful, yet who are absolutely supportive and promising to continue to
support positions of violence and suicide bombings.
GROSS: How much do you talk to leaders of Hamas when you interview them about
Mr. MYRE: You know that ideology pretty well, and after you've had that
conversation a couple of times, you don't expect to hear a whole lot new and a
whole lot that will change. What you try to find is, is there any shift in
their positions, again, when they talk about the possibility of a long-term
truce with Israel or something like that. But there's been no real shift in
their ideology since they were formed in the late 1980s, 1987 to be precise.
It's based on their covenant which is there for all to see and based on their
interpretation if Islam. And because of that, it's not something that they
consider changeable or can move a lot.
Now they are practical. I would add, having said that, that they are
practical, and they've had a reputation for being sensitive to public opinion.
At certain times, you've seen them increase attacks when they felt that that
was the mood of the Palestinian public or they thought it might be effective.
In the past year, we've seen them be disciplined and observe their truce
because they felt that they wanted to push forward with their political
program. We've seen the results of that. They've surprised everybody with
their results. So ideologically, I think, they are pretty fixed. It's hard
to see that ideology changing, but in some way, politically, they have shown
some pragmatism. At least certainly in dealing with what they feel are the
Palestinian people and their ideas.
GROSS: What are some of the risks that Israel and the United States face if
they cut off aid and if they don't deal directly with the Hamas government?
Whether the intention is to actually oust Hamas or not, what are the risks
they run by not recognizing Hamas?
Mr. MYRE: Well, the risk would be that you would lose any link or any way to
communicate or have a dialogue and perhaps moderate the Hamas government. The
line, even in the past five years of very intense fighting that we've seen
here between Israel and the Palestinians, there have been contacts and a
dialogue. Again not full-fledged political negotiations by any means, and
often that dialogue has been very limited. But, generally, it has still been
possible for the Israeli government to talk to Palestinian leaders or
Palestinian security officials. And the same thing for the US government. US
diplomats in the region have maintained that dialogue. And even though that
has not solved the major problems or renewed peace talks, I think it has
calmed down tensions at certain times. If there is no dialogue and if, for
example, the US government is not having any contact with the Hamas government
and the violence does pick up again, that dialogue is just not there. And so
that could be very problematic. Also a Hamas government, if it does in fact
turn to other Arab or Muslim countries and does start to receive money from
Iran or Saudi Arabia or other sources, may feel even further right in its
decision not to deal with Israel, and so the contacts, even during periods of
violence are still there and have some moderating or damping down effect. And
those could disappear.
GROSS: Well, Greg Myre, thank you very much for talking with us.
Mr. MYRE: My pleasure.
GROSS: Greg Myre is Jerusalem correspondent for The New York Times. He spoke
to us from Jerusalem. Our interview was recorded this morning.
This is FRESH AIR.
(Soundbite of music)
GROSS: Coming up, Ken Tucker tells us about a Web site that collects video of
vintage rock, soul and funk performances.
This is FRESH AIR.
* * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * *
Review: Rock critic Ken Tucker discusses new Web site, YouTube.com
TERRY GROSS, host:
A Web site introduced in December called YouTube.com features a vast array of
video material, including a lot of vintage rock, soul and funk performances
that are making rock critic Ken Tucker bleary-eyed from addicted viewing.
(Soundbite of "Get It On")
Mr. MARC BOLAN: (Singing) "Yeah! Well, you're dirty and sweet, clad in
black, don't look back and I love you. You're dirty and sweet, oh yeah.
Well, you're slim and you're weak. You've got the teeth of the hydra upon
you. You're dirty sweet, and you're my girl. Get it on, bang a gong, get it
on. Get it on, bang a gong, get it on."
Mr. KEN TUCKER (Rock Critic): That's Marc Bolan and T.Rex, glamming their
way through a primo performance of "Get It On, Bang a Gong," with, on
keyboards as special guest, a young Elton John. How young? He's got his own
hair. It's one of the hundreds, probably thousands of musical moments to be
watched on YouTube.com. If you enter the site, bring along a caffeinated
beverage and prepare to get hooked.
A typical afternoon for me was downloading a stupendous 1969 performance by
George Clinton and Parliament doing their early hit, "I Want to Testify."
Watching Clinton's P-Funk made me think of James Brown's "Primal Funk." So I
did a search and located a clip of the hardest working man in show business
singing an undated, in every sense, duet with the recently deceased Wilson
Pickett. Both men applying their utterly different growly voices to a
ferocious version of "Cold Sweat."
(Soundbite of "Cold Sweat")
Mr. JAMES BROWN: (Singing) "Ha! I don't care about your past. I just want
our love to last. And I don't care about your faults, yeah. I just want to
satisfy your pulse. Hit me!"
Mr. BROWN and Mr. WILSON PICKETT: (Singing in unison) "When you kiss me..."
Mr. PICKETT: (Singing) "Hold my hand, make me understand."
Mr. BROWN: (Singing) "I break out in a cold sweat. That's what he said,
now. Help! Goodness."
Mr. TUCKER: OK. Before I get e-mails accusing me of illegal downloading,
here's how YouTube works. You go to the site, search for the performer you
want, select a piece, and it streams the video onto your computer. You don't
download it. You can't keep it in that sense. The small company behind
YouTube recently told The New York Times that uploaders must consent that the
video they're providing isn't breaking any copyright law, but if a copyright
holder comes to them and asserts ownership of that property, the site takes it
I know this happens because the first day I signed on, I watched Jerry Lee
Lewis do a beautiful version of Hank Williams' "You Win Again" surrounded by
screaming '50s teenagers, and the next day, the link had vanished, never to be
seen again. The whole YouTube music experience is like a dream. You come
across things you weren't even looking for, making connections as you search
the site, saying, `Hmm. If they had the LA punk band Fear, maybe they have
The Germs.' And presto, the music just floats up in front of you. That's what
happened to me when I decided to leave howling punk bands and search for
(Soundbite of blues song)
HOWLIN' WOLF: Nine, 10. (Singing) "You know when you got a lazy woman, then
you have to come in and tell her things. Baby, why don't you sweep up the
house? And she'll jump up and tell you, sweep it up yourself. I'm going to
get up in the morning. I believe I'll dust my room. I'm going to get up in
the morning. I believe I'll dust my room. I'll put the gal I'm loving, while
my friends can have my room. I believe..."
Mr. TUCKER: The disadvantage to YouTube is that there's very little
information about the dates of the stuff you're watching. So unless you're up
on the history of a performance, it can be frustrating. But the rift in the
space time continuum created by the ability to leap from Ella Fitzgerald to
the Sex Pistols to Ricky Nelson on "Ozzie & Harriet" is a trip whose dizzying
disorientation becomes part of the pleasure. For as long as it lasts,
YouTube's musical mystery tour makes every note ever played sound like it was
just hanging in the air, waiting for you to hear it.
GROSS: Ken Tucker is editor at large for Entertainment Weekly. That Web site
he's been talking about is YouTube.com. That's Y-O-U-T-U-B-E.
GROSS: I'm Terry Gross.
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