NOW with Alex Wagner | November 19, 2012
>>> far east versus middle east . it is monday, november 19th , and this is "now."
>>> joining me today, georgetown university professor, man with the golden throat michael eric dayson, from the nation, ari melbourn msnbc contributor, katrina vanden hoover and former rnc starm the notorious michael steele . the launch pad for peace may be in cairo . in the last 24 hours egypt has been mediating high-stakes discussions between israeli and hamas leaders. speaking today egyptian prime minister hish m kandil said -- in gaza , palestinian medical officials report 95 people have been killed in gaza including 23 children. for the second straight day, israel bombed a building housing local and international media. the target of the attack was a commanding member of an islamic jihad group who also had an apartment in the building. meanwhile, hamas continues to send rockets deep into israel . last night, israel 's iron dome intercepted two rockets headed for tel aviv . yesterday, israeli prime minister benjamin netanyahu had tough talks on twitter writing we are exacting a heavy price from hamas and the terrorist organizations . the idf is prepared for a significant expansion of its operation. in a press gaggle on route to cambodia this morning, deputy national security adviser ben rhodes says the white house 's goal is to have nations with influence in the region speak for deescalation. speaking on sunday, the president urged israel to avoid a ground invasion.
>> israel has every right to expect it does not have missiles fired into its territory. if that can be accomplished, without a ramping up of military activity in gaza , that's preferable.
>> joining us from gaza nbc news foreign correspondent amman mohyeldin. sorry. amman , before we get into the analysis here, give us an update as far as where things stand in terms of egypt 's mediating what could be peace talks in this situation?
>> sure. yeah. all eyes have shifted away from gaza about a couple hundred miles south of here and it's all about cairo right now because that's where egyptian intelligence officials and egypt 's president is negotiating a truce between israel and the palestinian factions. in the last several hours, egypt 's president mohamed morsi has met with both the head of hamas 's political office and head of islamic jihad , the two biggest factions in gaza . both of them are saying that they're willing to enter truce with israel on certain conditions. these conditions are that gaza lifts a punishing blockade and siege that has been imposed on gaza since 2006 and allows the free moment movement of people in and out of the territory and supplies and medicine. they want assurances from israel that israel does not carry out any more assassinations on top palestinian leaders like the one we saw last wednesday that triggered all of this. at the same time, they want guarantees from the international community that israel will abide by these commitments. for its part israel says that the only condition it would accept is a complete cessation of rocket fire into southern israel and wants egypt to guarantee no more weapons will be smuggled into the gaza strip . both sides say they want to avert a war but really right now, they have demands and egyptian officials are hinting they have narrowed the gap between the two sides, but it really comes down to the guarantees in whether or not the international community and egypt can meet some of those demands. a lot of players including the turn i prime minister, ban ki-moon, as well as some of the other regional plays. all eyes are in cairo whether or not this is going to succeed.
>> let's talk about hamas ' demands because "the new york times" has an analysis that says hamas is negotiating from a stronger position given the fact that the muslim brotherhood is in control in egypt and is more sympathetic to hamas . "the new york times" writes -- and then outlined the things you enumerated a few seconds ago. amman , in terms of the sense that the winds have changed somewhat to favor the hamas demands how factual is that?
>> well, it has changed tremendously. when you talk about the arab spring having an impact here it absolutely has. and you really just have to look at the realities on the grounded. as you mentioned the mussst muslim brother hood is the dominant force in egypt . they will not sit idly by and watch not only the political leaders of hamas and others but they've made clear time and time again they will not watch palestinian people . understand in the context of the broader arab world the israeli palestini palestinian conflict cuts deep. you had the same publicly sentiment on the street but you had pro-western arab dictators in power so, for example, in egypt you had mubarak, very much aligned with u.s. and israeli interests. he was willing to turn a blind eye to israeli aggressions as they described it in gaza so long as he could secure the support of the u.s. and israel . you is a very different dynamic now and why this is also a very big test to egypt , to its credit, america is allowing egypt to immediate this and so far, egyptian officials say they are not [ inaudible ] a peace treaty with israel . president morsi says he's committed to the international obligations but he's also using his leverage to perhaps rein in hamas . it's not necessarily that hamas feels empowered but now perhaps egypt 's president is saying to hamas you also have a responsibility to govern, you can't just fire these rockets indiscriminately and trigger this type of backlash. this isn't only a crossroads for israel and gaza , it has a tremendous amount of implications for egypt and u.s. foreign policy vis-a-vis the new emerging realities of the arab world .
>> i want to open this up to our panel in new york . something that has been going on that i don't think has got an ton of coverage, is how the israeli defense ministry is using twitter to sort of talk about what they are doing. max fisher writing in "the washington post " -- skeptics particularly in the arab countries surrounding israel have seemed to consider the tweets posts overly triumphant or insensitive. the less pressure he feels from anti-israeli activists a s muslim brother hood factions the better israel is likely to be served. we have tweets focusing on those who have been assassinated, quote/unquote eliminated. here's one that says since the start of operation pillar of defense the idf has targeted 1,350 terror sites through the gaza strip . we talk about the new age of war and the idea that not only are you having a live tweeting -- live twitter stream of what you're doing but what kind of message that sends in terms of your engagement and whether it's, perhaps, to as "the washington post " says, to triumphant?
>> alex, i can't think of the new age of war when you're witnessing an age-old struggle here. for the sake of the children on both sides stop this abomination. it's worth you mentioned the israeli defense forces . it's worth remembering in terls of the timeline, there were negotiations under way for a long-term cease-fire when the israelis air force at the behess of benjamin netanyahu who wants to re-set israeli politics after his involvement with the u.s. elections , and shore up his base, when he decided to attack the militant hamas leader and assassinate him. clearly if there's going to be any security in this region, and don't trust me, trust the six former leaders in an israeli documentary called the gate keepers who spoke of the need for political solutions to this age old crisis. the israelis can tweet all they like but until there is an unconditional cease-fire and the beginnings of real negotiations through political solutions not military solutions, i fear that the israeli people and the palestinian people will see no peace nor will this new reality in the middle east have as much possibility to emerge in a more democratic way.
>> amman , you seem to be fairly bullish on the leadership or i don't know, i'm putting words in your mouth and correct me if i am, but morsi is a good shepard for at least this initial part of some sort of negotiations. i want to call your attention to what the analysis is in some corners about the president here in the united states and his leadership on the issue and his presence in the region. in his own party, there are rumblings he should intervene more directly to help the fodder in syria, speaking of president obama , placing patriot missiles around the region to take down president bashar al asad 's air power as soon as the current missile barrages can be contained. through mr. obama's critics the root of the absence of american leverage in the middle east today is a light footprint that was simply too light. is that shared? you're on the ground. is there a sense that the americans have been not present enough in all of this?
>> absolutely. and it's not only that they have been absent, also when they have been present, they haven't been present substantially in the way people in the region would like them to be. president obama came to cairo after he was elected, delivered a positive speech, very much welcomed in this part of the world to re-set relations between the u.s. and the muslim world and the arab world . one of the things that he said that the united states does not accept a legitimacy of israeli settlements in the west bank . here we are four years later settlements have expanded. in the eyes of the arab world this cuts deliver. at the same time, they get frustrated what they see is a biased attitude from the u.s. towards israel when it's supposeden to a so-called neutral broker. this has undermined a lot of the u.s. credibility in the region. festers a reservoir of anti-americanism that is becoming more and more loud if you will in this part of the world. i think that challenges u.s. policy in other regions in this part of the world when it comes to u.s. interests.
>> let me just bring this back to new york for a second. ari, president obama , a lot is made of his speech in cairo at the beginning of his tenure as first term. that was a different middle east in many ways. i mean hosni mubarak was still there, every assumption he would remain there. to the degree that the sands are shifting under his feet he's trying to focus american policy at a time when the middle east is as sort of -- the situation is as contentious as it ever has been, how much blame can we put on the president's shoulder for not being able to foresee this and develop an adequate foreign policy ?
>> this is a predicament of every u.s. president , the world has very high expectations for us. often they want us to get out of their lives, to stop using drones to kill their civilians. essentially go away. but when you are the sole super power going away itself has repercussions. we're seeing that here with a vacuum, with the muslim brother hood and morsi, playing a peace broker role without any peace that people feel the u.s. should be a bigger leader on. i think there is a marker here from the cairo speech and fair to criticize this president for a lack of, yes, to use the word, engagement on a lot of the issues that divide israelis and the palestinians. another problem here i would add is something we talked about on the show before, when you look at those numbers, 95 deaths in the recent spell and 23 children as you mentioned, you have to have a wider discussion about what is going on with military targeting and what's going on with civilian deaths. and we as a nation and israel as a nation , are right to criticize the terrorists and opponents who target civilians. we say we don't target civilians but there are these programs that have that what the military calls collateral damage. that's the other piece to this. i would echo yes, the blockade and the assassination policies are clearly up for debate but there has to be the wider discussion about how to reduce the civilian casualties and bring the parties back to the negotiating table.
>> amman , before we let you go, you said at the end when i asked you about the president and sort of impression that folks have in the middle east regarding america and american strength and our ability to immediate conflict such as these, your sense is that that decreasing amount of conviction in america 's strength spills over into other countries. can you tell us a little bit about that before we let you go?
>> well, certainly. you know when you want to talk about u.s. protests or protests that happen outside u.s. embassies anywhere in the arab world including those that happened in benghazi and elsewhere, it's easy for the extremists in this part of the world -- and not necessarily just the extremists, but those critical of the united states -- to tap into that anti-american reservoir for other ideological purposes. it was one of the things that al qaeda used do all the time was exploit u.s. deficiency in policy when it comes to israel . palestine and other parts of the world. the u.s. backs governments in saudi arabia and other parts of the gulf and that draws critici criticismps. there are implications for the united states it how it deals with the conflict. you can push it off on the back burner but it remains the central issue that defines u.s. foreign policy in the middle east . that's not forgotten on the 300 million people on the arab world . it shouldn't be forgotten on u.s. officials.
>> thank you as always for your time and intel. stay safe over there. we will be following this story as it develops. after the break, making history . the president extends the hand of friendship halfway around the world and makes history as the first sitting u.s. president to visit burma while president obama continues a tour of southeast asia the white house cannot ignore the northeast. nicolas kristof joins us next on "now." [ fishing