Pretending Hamas does not exist and a peace process does
This post contains news and assessments from CNN, Daily News Egypt, a report from CBS/AP that an Israeli official is secretly in Cairo for ceasefire talks, CNN – enjoy the ‘clarification’ from Michael Oren about no talks – and Reuters.
By Nathan J. Brown, CNN
November 17, 2012
The outbreak of violence between Israel and the Hamas-controlled “statelet” of Gaza serves no end. Both sides know that, yet they plunge ahead anyway, claiming that they are forced by their adversary to escalate the conflict.
Most experts agree that eventually the fighting will stop and leave the situation unchanged. The only question is the number of victims. If neither side has much to gain, why can’t they stop themselves?
Each side suspects the other of playing domestic politics. Palestinians fear that the Israeli government is making war with an eye to upcoming elections. Israelis suspect that Hamas — whose full name is the “Islamic Resistance Movement” — is lobbing rockets because it is tired of its rivals’ taunting that it is not living up to its middle name.
There is some truth to these charges, but the deeper motivations have to do less with pleasing the home crowd and more with frightening and deterring the other side.
Both sides would love to have their adversary disappear but know they cannot make that happen any time soon, so for now they each have more limited goals.
The Israelis know that they cannot dislodge Hamas from Gaza without unacceptable cost and endless occupation. But they want to punish the movement so severely that it will be deterred from future violence. Hamas knows that the damage it inflicts serves no strategic value, but it hopes that its rockets will cause dislocation and even panic in Israel and send an international message that Gaza cannot be ignored.
So the fighting likely will be contained in the end. In addition to civilian casualties on both sides (with the toll much heavier in Gaza, since Israel is the much stronger party), there will be substantial political damage, as well. The United States will be regarded in the Arab world as complicit in the Israeli offensive. And Egypt, which has a peace treaty with Israel but whose population sympathizes with Hamas, will feel badly embarrassed by its apparent powerlessness.
But the real blame on international actors — including the United States and Egypt — falls not on their actions during this crisis, but on their long inaction before.
The United States under both President George W. Bush and President Barack Obama supported a harsh blockade on Gaza and pretended that the Israeli-Palestinian issue could be dealt with as if Hamas does not exist and Gaza does not matter. Under ousted leader Hosni Mubarak, Egypt quietly supported that position. Under Muhammad Morsy, Egypt’s new president from the Muslim Brotherhood, Egypt is no longer quiet or supportive, but it has only been able to wield rhetorical tools.
Egypt (which now tilts toward Hamas) and the United States (which supports Israel) can, if they cooperate, probably bring about a ceasefire. What they do afterward is the real question.
There is no clear path forward for international diplomacy, but it is quite obvious what does not work: Waiting for Hamas to go away. In a visit to Gaza last May, I saw how thoroughly Hamas has come to dominate politics and society in the tiny but crowded enclave. The movement runs ministries, polices the streets and manages the economy. Gaza residents see no alternative to Hamas, nor are they asked for one, with elections canceled and opposition closely monitored.
As the Obama administration moves into its second term, it makes more sense to deal with the Israeli-Palestinian conflict that really exists rather than to pretend that there still is a “peace process” that only needs one more round of quiet talks to succeed.
Nathan J. Brown is professor of political science and international affairs at George Washington University and nonresident senior associate at the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace. He is author of six books on Middle East politics, the most recent of which is ”When Victory is Not an Option: Islamist Movements in Arab Politics” (Cornell University Press, 2012).
Morsy meets with Erdoğan and Qatari emir
Qatar to send urgent aid to Gaza with Egyptian cooperation
By Joel Gulhane, Daily News Egypt
November 17, 2012
Qatari Emir Sheikh Hamad Bin Khalifa Al-Thani and Turkey’s Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdoğan arrived in Cairo on Saturday for meetings with President Mohamed Morsy.
Presidential spokesperson Yasser Ali said the Emir announced that Qatar “will send urgent aid to Gaza with cooperation from the Egyptian side.”
Al-Thani met Morsy to discuss developments in Gaza and Syria. He told Morsy that he supports the efforts Egypt are taking to resolve the crisis.
Morsy and Al-Thani also agreed on the importance for a unified and solid Arab position on Gaza, said Ali.
The emir last visited Egypt on his way to Gaza last month to inaugurate a $254 million investment project to help rebuild parts of Gaza. At the end of October Morsy also announced that Egypt is sending ongoing aid to Gaza.
Earlier on Saturday Morsy and Erdoğan discussed the latest developments in Gaza; Alis said that during the meeting Erdoğan commended Morsy on Egypt’s efforts to calm the situation.
Ali also confirmed that Erdoğan and Morsy would meet in the evening to sign bilateral agreements, the framework for which was previously agreed upon during Morsy’s visit to Turkey at the end of September.
According to a statement released by the Foreign Ministry, the foreign ministers of both countries met earlier on Saturday to review the 27 agreements which covered “areas of health, transport, culture, the preservation of Islamic monuments and other areas of cooperation between the two countries.”
Erdoğan also travelled to the Arab league where an emergency meeting of Arab foreign ministers will take place to discuss the best way to resolve the Gaza crisis. Erdoğan also gave a speech at Cairo University. Before he arrived at the university around 2000 students demonstrated in solidarity with the Palestinian people, according to state owned news agency MENA.
In his speech Erdoğan talked about the situation in Gaza and Syria and Turkish-Egyptian relations. He said, “we will continue with Egypt to solve the problems of Gaza in the international community and the United Nations.” He also said, “when it comes to Syria or Palestine we see silence and double standards; this injustice must end and we will not accept it again.”
On Egyptian Turkish relations he said, “at this stage we will support Egypt with all our strength and efforts and will not hesitate to assist them economically.”
Before leaving for Cairo, Erdoğan blamed Israel for the escalating violence; “it’s a tactic of Israel’s to point the finger at Hamas and attack Gaza,” AFP reported him saying. He added, “Israel continues to make an international racket with its three dead. In fact it is Israel that violated the ceasefire.”
Ali also confirmed that Erdoğan will also meet with Prime Minister Hesham Qandil and they would hold a joint press conference on Saturday evening.
Israeli envoy in Egypt for cease-fire talks
November 18, 2012
CAIRO Egyptian security officials say a senior Israeli official has arrived in Cairo for talks on reaching a cease-fire to end an Israeli offensive in the Gaza Strip.
The officials said the official arrived at Cairo’s airport and was immediately rushed away from the tarmac into talks.
The officials, speaking on condition of anonymity under security guidelines, did not identify the Israeli.
Israeli officials declined comment.
Egypt has been leading international efforts to broker a truce to end five days of fighting between Israel and Hamas militants in Gaza.
Nabil Shaath, an aide to Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas who was in Cairo, confirmed the Israeli’s arrival.
He says there are “serious attempts to reach a cease-fire.”
Shaath was headed to Gaza later Sunday to work on cease-fire efforts.
Early Sunday, the military carried out dozens of attacks on rocket-launching sites, a major training base and the two media centers. Israeli gunboats also fired on militant sites on the Gaza shore line, the military said without elaborating…………………..
The strikes on the media centers hit two high-rise buildings, damaging the top floor offices of the Hamas TV station, Al Aqsa, and a Lebanese-based broadcaster, Al Quds TV, seen as sympathetic to the Islamists.
A Gaza press association said six Palestinian journalists were wounded, including one who lost a leg. Foreign broadcasters, including British, German and Italian TV outlets, also had offices in the high-rises.
Mohammed Shrafi, a Palestinian cameraman, said he was in the street filming when he was hit by shrapnel coming down from the building.
Asked why Israel was targeting media centers, he replied, “They want to keep us from telling the truth.”
Israel’s military spokesman. Brig. Gen. Yoav Mordechai, warned that Israel would go after Hamas commanders Sunday, in addition to rocket squads, in “more targeted, more surgical and more deadly” attacks.
Mordechai, the Israeli military spokesman, told Army Radio that despite truce efforts, the military has been ordered to intensify its attacks, following a late-night meeting led by Netanyahu and Defense Minister Ehud Barak.
“I imagine in the next few hours, we will see ongoing targeted attacks on gunmen and Hamas commanders,” Mordechai said. “More targeted, more surgical and more deadly.”
While Israel was suggesting the campaign might heat up, Gaza Prime Minister Ismail Haniyeh of Hamas spoke for 20 minutes by phone Sunday with Egyptian President Mohammed Morsi, who is trying to broker a cease-fire between Israel and Hamas, according to Haniyeh’s office.
Haniyeh told Morsi he supports such efforts, provided Hamas receives “guarantees that will prevent any future aggression” by Israel, his office said in a statement.
A quick agreement appears unlikely because the two sides are far apart in their demands. Hamas is linking a truce deal to a complete lifting of the border blockade on Gaza imposed by Israel and Morsi’s pro-Western predecessor, Hosni Mubarak, in 2007, after the Islamists seized the territory by force. Hamas also seeks Israeli guarantees to halt targeted killings of its leaders and military commanders.
Israeli officials reject such demands. They say they are not interested in a “timeout,” and want firm guarantees that the rocket fire will finally end. Past cease-fires have been short lived.
Israeli Defense Ministry director Udi Shani told Army Radio that Israel’s operation against Gaza militants was not meant to topple the Islamic militant Hamas, but to cripple its capabilities to attack Israel.
“If we don’t achieve our goals from the air, we will have to enter by ground,” Shani said. “I hope in the coming days it will be decided.”
Egyptian intel chief working to forge cease-fire
By Sara Sidner, Frederik Pleitgen and Mohammed Fadel Fahmy, CNN
November 18, 2012
CLARIFICATION: An earlier version of this story included a misinterpretation of a statement made by Michael Oren, Israeli ambassador to the United States. CNN misinterpreted what Oren said when he talked about Israel’s willingness to negotiate with its neighbors if they “just stop shooting at us.” Because Gaza, which is run by Hamas, is one of Israel’s neighbors, and because Hamas is the only entity “shooting” at Israel, we thought Oren was indicating a willingness to negotiate with Hamas. Oren, in fact, did not say Israel was willing to negotiate with Hamas.
Egypt’s intelligence chief is spearheading talks with Hamas and Israel to forge a stop to the five days of warring that has engulfed Gaza and the Jewish state and head off an Israeli ground offensive into the besieged Palestinian territory.
Mohammed Shehata contacted Israel and requested that it “calm down” the situation, a general with Egyptian intelligence told CNN. He is trying to persuade both sides to reach a cease-fire, and negotiations are still ongoing with no clear conclusion yet, said the general, who asked not to be named.
The Palestinian Information Center, a Hamas-run media outlet, said Shehata met with Hamas leader Khalid Meshaal on Saturday in an attempt “to calm the situation and stop the Zionist assault on Gaza.”
Meeting in the Egyptian capital of Cairo, Meshaal’s delegation passed along conditions for a process that would ease the situation and reach an agreement.
It wants a halt to “all acts of aggression and assassination” from Israel and a lifting of Israel’s blockade on Gaza in exchange “for stopping the rockets” targeting Israeli cities, the center said.
The center cited sources from the Hamas delegation in Cairo, saying the movement has received a number of requests through European mediators to stop the fighting.
As Palestinian fighters and Israeli soldiers traded fire, Israeli troops and tanks massed near the border of the Palestinian territory Saturday, hinting at an imminent ground invasion.
Convoys carrying tens of thousands of Israeli soldiers rolled toward Gaza, part of what the IDF described as the mobilization of 30,000 troops along the border with Israel. The Israeli government has authorized calling up 75,000 reservists.
“Israel will take all necessary and legitimate measures to defend its citizens, including ground operations,” Israeli’s ambassador to the United States, Michael Oren, told CNN.
There was no immediate word from Israel about the initiatives to end its days-old military campaign aimed at stopping daily rocket attacks from Gaza.
Rockets soared from Gaza toward Israel all day Saturday, including one that was blocked by a missile defense system as it headed straight to Tel Aviv.
Hamas’ military wing, the Izzedine Al Qassam Brigades, said Saturday it has fired more than 900 rockets at Israel since the fighting began. A spokesman for the Israel Defense Forces put the number at 1,000.
Air raid sirens screamed in Tel Aviv, and Hamas’ military wing claimed responsibility for shelling the city. But the IDF said its Iron Dome missile defense system blocked the Tel Aviv-bound rocket.
Earlier Saturday, Israeli warplanes leveled the Palestinian Cabinet building, where Egyptian Prime Minister Hesham Kandil met Friday with Hamas officials. The strikes hit the office of Prime Minister Ismail Haniyeh, the Hamas Ministry of the Interior and a police compound, Israel and Hamas said.
Rockets fell Friday near Jerusalem, Israel’s seat of power.
Leaders across the world have called on Israeli and Palestinian governing bodies to show restraint, fearing at a minimum a possible repeat of Israel’s 2008 invasion that left at least 1,400 people dead.
Arab League foreign ministers met in an emergency session in the Egyptian capital, and the group’s secretary-general, Nabil Elaraby, denounced Israeli actions, echoing the criticism of Israel from other leaders across the Middle East and Muslim world.
Elaraby said the Arab League should reevaluate and question the benefits the Middle East peace process — which he called “a process without peace.” And, he said, the Arab nations should work to bring the issue front and center to the international community.
A White House spokesman, saying “the precipitating factor” for the current conflict was the rocket fire from Gaza into civilian areas, stressed that “Israel has a right to defend itself.” He also underscored the importance of Israel avoiding civilian casualties.
Oren said Israel regrets any loss of civilian life in Gaza, but said Israel is simply trying to send a message to Hamas that it cannot kill Israeli civilians with impunity.
Hamas, Oren said, is “a genocidal organization” that does not accept Israel’s legitimacy and is not looking to negotiate with Israel.
Israel wants peace and is willing to negotiate with its neighbors, if they are willing to do the same, the ambassador said.
“Everything’s on the table. We sign on to the two-state solution,” Oren told CNN. “We’re committed to it. Just stop shooting at us.”
Health officials in Gaza say 46 people have been killed and 440 people wounded since Israel’s military operation, dubbed Pillar of Defense, began Wednesday.
Israel is reporting three deaths from a Hamas rocket attack in the southern community of Kiryat Malachi. At least 18 Israelis have been wounded, including five civilians and four Israeli soldiers wounded by rocket fire from Gaza, the military said.
For days, Israel has been using airstrikes to target what it describes as rocket-launching sites operated by Hamas and other militant groups. Israeli airstrikes have hit more more than 830 targets in Gaza since the operation began, the IDF said.
The IDF, which describes Hamas-run Gaza as a “front-line base” for its adversary, Iran, said it targeted a Hamas base in southern Gaza and two Hamas operatives on Saturday, one in charge of smuggling and an air defense official.
Palestinian militants, meanwhile, launched a barrage of rockets at southern Israel, including four that hit the coastal community of Ashdod, the IDF said. One of the rockets hit a house and another landed near a kindergarten, the IDF said. There were no immediate reports of casualties.
The Izzedine Al Qassam Brigades said its fighters shelled the Zikim military base near Ashkelon and the Israeli cities of Ashdod and Beer Sheva.
The group also claimed Saturday to have shot down an Israeli F-16 over the Mediterranean Sea. It didn’t say when the downing allegedly occurred.
An IDF spokeswoman denied the claim, saying all aircraft are accounted for.
“It didn’t happen and we have no record of it,” said the spokeswoman, who could not be named in line with policy.
Hamas accused Israeli warplanes of hitting an apartment building Saturday in the Jabalya refugee camp in northern Gaza, killing at least three people and wounding more than 30, according to Hamas-run al Aqsa TV. Footage broadcast by al-Aqsa showed people clam[be]ring over smoking ruins, searching for survivors.
Palestinians incensed by Israel’s offensive took to the streets in the West Bank, the Palestinian territory whose government is dominated by the Fatah movement.
Four people were seriously wounded in Beitanya near Ramallah when Israeli soldiers fired “high-velocity projectiles” toward demonstrators, Palestinian medical sources said. Seven others were lightly injured by rubber steel-coated bullets and tear gas inhalation, the sources said.
In Bait Omar, demonstrators attempted to march out of the village but were stopped by Israeli soldiers, who fired stun grenades and tear gas.
Fatah and Hamas have been fierce rivals in recent years. Fatah is more moderate on Israel than Hamas, and Hamas leaders have engaged in peace talks with Israel over the years.
Editor’s note: Nathan J. Brown is professor of political science and international affairs at George Washington University and nonresident senior associate at the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace. He is author of six books on Middle East politics, the most recent of which is “When Victory is Not an Option: Islamist Movements in Arab Politics” (Cornell University Press, 2012).
By Seda Sezer and Matt Robinson, Reuters
November 16, 2012
ISTANBUL–Turkish Prime Minister Tayyip Erdogan decried Israeli’s air strikes on Gaza on Friday as a pre-election stunt and said he would discuss the crisis with Egyptian President Mohamed Mursi in Cairo this weekend.
Under Erdogan’s Islamist-rooted AK Party, Turkey has sought to use its clout as a rising democratic power in the Muslim world to increase its influence in the Middle East, distancing itself from former ally Israel.
Erdogan said he would speak by phone with U.S. President Barack Obama later on Friday and that Ankara was also seeking talks with Russian President Vladimir Putin amid the prospect of a full Israeli ground invasion.
The United States says it has asked Turkey and Egypt to encourage the Islamist Hamas movement that rules Gaza to cease rocket fire into Israel, but Erdogan laid the blame for the deepening crisis firmly on the Jewish state.
“Before this election they (Israel) shot these innocent people in Gaza for reasons they fabricated,” he told reporters in Istanbul. “The dominant world powers are now making the Gaza people and fighters pay, and as the Republic of Turkey we are with our brothers in Gaza and their just cause.”
Relations between Turkey – once Israel’s only Muslim ally – and the Jewish state have crumbled since Israeli marines stormed a Gaza-bound aid ship in 2010 to enforce a naval blockade of the Gaza Strip, killing nine Turks in clashes with activists on board.
This week, two days of relentless Israeli air strikes on Gaza and the drafting of reserve troops have raised fears of a full ground invasion in an attempt to end militant rocket salvoes, a few of which have crashed near Israel’s biggest city Tel Aviv for the first time.
Twenty-two Palestinians have died in the air strikes since Wednesday. Three Israelis were killed by a rocket on Thursday.
The Gaza conflagration has fanned the fires of a Middle East aflame with two years of Arab revolution and a civil war in Syria that threatens to spill beyond its borders.
“I hope (a) decision of the U.N. Security Council and the attitude of the dominant powers will end Israel’s offensive attitude,” Erdogan said.
“We don’t have any relations with Israel left. The countries which have relations with Israel should talk to them.”