CNN’s Gorani: ‘A Middle East Peace Summit That Doesn’t Include Hamas!?’

CNN International’s Hala Gorani couldn’t fathom why a Palestinian terrorist organization wasn’t invited to the upcoming Middle East peace conference in Annapolis, Maryland. Following-up to an answer made by State Department spokesman Michael Pelletier during an interview, Gorani exclaimed, "How can you have a Middle East peace summit that doesn’t include Hamas? Forget whether or not you don’t like them as a group, or call them terrorists. How can you not?"

Gorani asked the question 18 minutes into the 12 pm "Your World Today" program on Monday, which is simulcast on CNN. Gorani began the interview on a bit of a skeptical, even hostile note, and she acted as if she should be the one directing the negotiations. After her initial question and the answer from Pelletier, Gorani shot back with the following point. "You have two very weak leaders. The Palestinian isn't even representative of his entire population. Ehud Olmert is the least popular Israeli prime minister, practically, in history. George Bush won't be in office in 13 months' time. Why would anything come out of this?"

Video clip (1:24): Real (2.28 MB) and Windows (2.58 MB), plus MP3 audio (652 kB).

As Pelletier answered by stating how Abu Mazen (Mahmoud Abbas) is the "authorized and legitimate" negotiator for the Palestinians, Gorani interrupted him mid-sentence. "But he has no credibility with his own people! Hamas won democratic elections in Gaza." Pelletier replied that Hamas "ruled itself out" of the upcoming talks by its "violent takeover of institutions in Gaza" and its expulsion of Fatah from the territory. This is when Gorani asked her question about the lack of inclusion of Hamas.

After Pelletier replied to her question, Gorani continued to express her disbelief and added the Iran question to the equation. "I just still don’t understand, I mean, maybe you can help me understand this. How is it possible to discuss peace between two partners, when a good chunk of that partner on the Palestinian side is not represented, when Iran is not being talked to either, and they’re being accused of financing Hamas. How is it possible? You’re only talking to people you already agree with!" Pelletier promptly disagreed with her point, that things "would be settled" if the two main parties agreed.

Even with all the apparent hostile questions, Gorani complimented Pelletier at the end of the segment. "You know the Arab world. You speak Arabic yourself. You’ve been around, [and] you know how much skepticism there is." Given Gorani’s own Syrian background, she could have been speaking for herself, given the "skeptical" tone she carried through the entire interview.

The full transcript of the Hala Gorani’s interview of Michael Pelletier on Monday’s "Your World Today:"

HALA GORANI: Welcome back to 'Your World Today,' right here on CNN International, and we're going to talk more about that Annapolis peace summit. Iran is not attending the conference. Its ally, Syria, though, is. So is the regional powerhouse Saudi Arabia. Can new players breathe new life into peace efforts?

Joining us to talk about that is Michael Pelletier of the U.S. State Department. Thanks for being with us, Mr. Pelletier. Why will this summit be any different from all the other efforts at establishing peace between Israelis and Palestinians?

MICHAEL PELLETIER, MIDEAST SPOKESMAN, U.S. STATE DEPT.: Well, I think you have a couple of elements which are good reason for some optimism. First of all, you have in place a Palestinian government under President Abu Mazen, and an Israeli government under Prime Minister Olmert, that are really very publicly and truly committed to a peaceful solution the problem, to a two-state solution to the problem.

GORANI: Right.

PELLETIER: And furthermore, that that -- the commitment to the idea of a two-state solution is reaching out further. You also have very wide, as you mentioned just now, very wide Arab participation, international participation in the conference tomorrow in Annapolis. I think all of those things lead to some hope. I think also, when you look at some of the efforts by former prime minister Tony Blair, for example, for the quartet, at working on reform and establishing institutions necessary for a good, viable Palestinian state, all of those things are important. And...

GORANI: But, Michael Pelletier, all of those things have been in place for a while. You have two very weak leaders. The Palestinian isn't even representative of his entire population, Ehud Olmert is the least popular Israeli prime minister, practically, in history. George Bush won't be in office in 13 months' time. Why would anything come out of this?

PELLETIER: Well, I think -- I think, first of all, in terms of Abu Mazen, if you look at it, his role as the authorized and legitimate negotiator of a peace settlement with the Israelis, as the negotiator for all of the Palestinian people...

(CROSSTALK)

GORANI: But he has no credibility with his own people. Hamas won democratic elections in Gaza.

PELLETIER: And Hamas, unfortunately, since their violent takeover of the institutions in Gaza, and expulsion of Fatah and others from Gaza, I think has shown that it, unfortunately, refuses to meet the international sort of principles on which peace will be based -- recognizing Israel, denouncing and renouncing violence, respecting former agreements. Unfortunately, Hamas is sort of ruling itself out.

GORANI: But let me ask...

PELLETIER: The Palestinian people want peace, as your previous piece mentioned. I mean, overwhelmingly, the people want peace.

GORANI: Okay. That's not under discussion. Palestinians want peace. They're suffering. Israelis want peace. They feel threatened. That's not under discussion. But how can you have a Middle East peace summit that doesn't include Hamas? Forget whether or not you don't like them as a group or call them terrorists. How can you not?

PELLETIER: Well, I think what you have, and that's -- that's more important, is what you have, is, as I said, the two governments, Israeli and Palestinian, focused on peace and committed to it. You have the regional players, including those members of the Arab follow-up committee to the Arab peace initiative, who are going to be there, who are supporting and encouraging and really backing up the Palestinians as they make these efforts. You have the international community, the U.N. group, the G-8, the United States, and others. All of us are there to support the Palestinians and the Israelis as they move forward. Nobody knows -- Everybody knows that these are tough decisions, these are tough subjects. I think, therefore, it's really important for all of us to be in there backing them, so that success is possible.

GORANI: I just -- I just still don't understand, I mean, maybe you can help me understand this. How is it possible to discuss peace between two partners, when a good chunk of that partner on the Palestinian side is not represented, when Iran is not being talked to either, and they're being accused of financing Hamas. How is it possible? You're only talking to people you already agree with.

PELLETIER: No. On the contrary, I think if the Israelis and the Palestinians already agreed on everything, then we would be settled. I think there are a lot of issues out there. I think that it's important not to downplay or belittle the fact that President Abu Mazen is the democratically-elected representative, legitimate head of the Palestinians, particularly of the Palestinian Liberation Organization, which has the right to negotiate for the Palestinian people. Ehud Olmert is the prime minister of Israel and has that power as the Israeli prime minister.

GORANI: Sure, but Ismail Haniyeh was a democratically-elected prime minister of the Palestinians.

PELLETIER: And unfortunately, we have seen that the Hamas organization has refused to meet those international principles, has -- there's been violence, there's been some real problems with the situation in Gaza. And the United States, the international community, is very concerned about the plight of those Palestinians who are in Gaza, stuck under that situation. But I think that makes it all the more important that those of us who believe in peace, who have a positive vision of the region, who can imagine two states living side-by-side and really succeeding, it's therefore, all that more important that we work towards that and we support efforts in that direction. The Palestinian people deserve it and the Israeli people deserve it.

GORANI: You know the Arab world. You speak Arabic yourself. You've been around, you know how much skepticism there is. In any case, we will continue to follow this story, of course. Michael Pelletier of the State Department. Thanks so much for being on 'Your World Today.'

PELLETIER: Thank you.

Matthew Balan
Matthew Balan
Matthew Balan is a news analyst at Media Research Center