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Understanding the Gaza Border-Crossing Deal


Joining us now is Stephen Cohen, who is national scholar of the Israel Policy Forum and president of the Institute for Middle East Peace and Development.

And, Stephen Cohen, you've been involved in negotiations between Israel going back to the days when Egypt first recognized Israel. It's been a long time.

Mr. STEPHEN COHEN (Israel Policy Forum; President, Institute for Middle East Peace and Development): That's right.

SIEGEL: How significant is an agreement like this in comparison to, say, the withdrawal from Gaza that was, more or less, unilateral or the breakthrough with Egypt or Jordan before that?

Mr. COHEN: I think that what is very significant about this agreement is that it was the urgency of the secretary of State getting involved. The fact that Condi Rice changed her pattern, which is that she has been traveling to the region basically listening and listening and listening and not ever pushing things to a decision--the fact that she finally decided to do that is, I think, a very significant moment.

SIEGEL: This is a change. I mean, there was received wisdom in Washington for a while, at least under this president's administration, that it was a waste of political capital to be seen trying to reach agreements between Israel and the Palestinians.

Mr. COHEN: I think there is no political capital to be wasted at this time. The administration is short on political capital. So if she had a chance to make an agreement, she was actually adding political capital, not taking it away. And I think this is the first successful move in foreign policy of this administration for some time, and I think that can't be a bad thing for the Bush administration.

SIEGEL: At first glance, it would appear that the Israelis have given the Palestinians many, many things that they want in terms of access out of the Gaza Strip, and they haven't gotten that much of what they wanted. They've gotten some surveillance cameras, I guess, at the Rafah crossing. Is that what's it's mostly been, exacting concessions from the Israelis, or have the Palestinians made concessions that are significant here as well?

Mr. COHEN: I think that what will be significant to the Israelis is if the Palestinian elections defeat Hamas and elect a list of members of the Palestinian Legislative Council who are determined to go forward in peace. That would be the big outcome for Israel. It's not an immediate outcome in terms of something that the Palestinians have done today that the Israelis can count up on their side of the ledger. But on the big question of whether or not the Palestinians are going to be in a position to demand from themselves that they meet the requirements of ending violence so that something can happen in terms of a future negotiation, this was a very important step today.

SIEGEL: So a Palestinian parliamentary election in January that might ratify a better relationship with Israel would be the great gain to Israel out of this agreement?

Mr. COHEN: Yeah. Yeah.

SIEGEL: We heard some skepticism from a Palestinian businessman. What must happen between an agreement that looks good on paper and its actual implementation so that it turns out to be reality for people in the area?

Mr. COHEN: Well, there are many steps that often get in the way of the actual implementation of agreements because Israelis have been very concerned that when the Palestinians have the freedom to move and when they have the freedom to send and bring in products, they will use that freedom in order to bring in weapons and ammunition, not only food and furnishings. And the Israelis are going to have to see now whether or not they immediately face the challenge that the Palestinians do not behave in a way that is transparent, and therefore the Israelis start to believe that the Palestinians are using this agreement in order to import contraband.

SIEGEL: Stephen Cohen, who is national scholar for the Israel Policy Forum and also president of the Institute for Middle East Peace and Development. He was speaking to us from Newark, New Jersey.

MICHELE NORRIS (Host): You're listening to ALL THINGS CONSIDERED from NPR News. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.