Barak Ravid
Haaretz (Analysis)
November 21, 2012 - 1:00am


Following a day of intense diplomatic efforts, and grueling negotiations in Cairo, a statement on a cease-fire in Gaza, due to come into effect midnight Tuesday, was postponed in the last minute. Egyptian officials and senior Hamas operatives indicated that an Israeli request was the reason for the delay, and that talks would resume on Wednesday morning.

A senior Israeli official said the latest draft compiled by Egyptian intelligence officials wasn't favored by Israel. Though the Egyptians adopted Hamas' stances on some points, especially with regards to everything doing with opening border crossings, loosening the blockade, and annulling the 500-meter security zone on Gaza's side of the border, to which Israel bars the entrance of Palestinians.

"These aren't [former Egyptian President Hosni] Mubarak and [former Egyptian Vice President] Omar Suleiman, who reviled Hamas," the senior official said, adding: "Today it's [Egyptian President Mohamed] Morsi who's calling the shots."

The official added that the Egyptian leadership represented "a group of people who want to deliver achievements to Hamas. The choice isn't between good and bad understandings, but between a cease-fire and an extensive and dangerous ground offensive in Gaza."

During the discussions taking place at the Prime Minister's Office throughout Tuesday, Defense Minister Ehud Barak was in favor of accepting the Egyptian draft. On the other hand, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and Foreign Minister Avigdor Lieberman argued that Israel can't back down on essential issues.

Israel told Egypt, at first, it was interested in a cease-fire based on the "quiet-for-quiet" principle, in which Israel demands the cessation of rocket fire and of attacks against IDF troops along the border, as well as stopping attacks from the Sinai facilitated by Gaza militants.

Israel demands that Hamas be held responsible for making sure the Gaza Strip's other groups uphold the Palestinian end of the deal. In return, Israel will stop the IAF strikes and the assassinations of militants. However, Israel demands that it retain its right to take militarily action in order to thwart nefarious operations against it in Gaza.

During the second stage, once the cease-fire is given a trial run of sorts, Israel would be willing to open talks with Egypt on Hamas' demands, especially loosening the blockage on Gaza and opening the border crossings. Israel demands that, at that stage, discussions concerning the smuggling of arms into the Gaza Strip will take place and that Egypt will provide assurances to prevent its taking place.

On Tuesday afternoon, Israeli and Hamas officials estimated that the sides were close to a cease-fire agreement. Hamas and Islamic Jihad representatives in Cairo were already planning to announce that the lull would go into effect at midnight in a press conference.

A senior Israeli official stated on Tuesday evening that "there isn't an Israeli agreement to any cease-fire draft." He added that if Hamas stops firing rockets Israel would stop its attacks on Gaza.

According to some, Israel delayed its response to Egypt because it wanted to coordinate its negotiating positions with U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, who arrived in Israeli on Tuesday. Clinton left the airport directly to a night meeting with Netanyahu, Barak and Foreign Minister Avigdor Lieberman.

At a press conference with Netanyahu before the meeting, Clinton declared that the U.S. supported Israel's position. "America's commitment to Israel's security is rock-solid and unwavering, that is why we believe it is essential to de-escalate the situation in Gaza," said Clinton. "The rocket attacks from terrorist organizations inside Gaza on Israeli cities and towns must end and a broader calm restored."

Netanyahu stated that "If there is a possibility of achieving a long-term solution to this problem with diplomatic means, we prefer that, but if not, I'm sure you understand that Israel will have to take whatever action is necessary to defend its people."

Today, Clinton will arrive in Cairo to meet with Egyptian President Mohammed Morsi and with a delegation of Arab League foreign ministers. U.S. President Barack Obama, who unexpectedly sent Clinton to the region on Tuesday, conducted three telephone conversations with Morsi in the last 36 hours and requested he apply pressure to Hamas urging them to halt their rocket fire. Israel is interested in having Clinton finalize a cease-fire understanding with the Egyptians and confirm that it won't be to Israel's detriment.

Over the course of Tuesday, diplomatic contacts continued to take place. Netanyahu met with German Foreign Minister Guido Westerwelle, who went directly from Jerusalem to meet with senior Egyptian officials in Cairo. Afterwards, Netanyahu met with UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon, who will arrive in Cairo on Wednesday to meet with Morsi.

Netanyahu also had a phone conversation with Jordan's King Abdullah II on Tuesday. Abdullah cautioned the prime minister against widening the campaign in Gaza to include a ground operation. A press release issued by the Jordanian palace stated that Abdullah cautioned Netanyahu of the risk of a deterioration of the situation in Gaza and the dangerous implications for the security and stability of the region.

"Ending all forms of escalation will clear the way for diplomatic efforts and will bring calm," the king was quoted as saying to Netanyahu. Before the conversation with Netanyahu, Abdullah talked with Morsi and asked him to redouble his efforts to mediate a cease-fire.


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