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July 31, 2014 5:51 am
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Analysis: Israel Stumped by Obama’s Behavior

avatar by Deborah Danan

President Obama and Prime Minister Netanyahu at the White House. Photo: Screenshot.

Politicians across the political spectrum in Israel have been left entirely stumped by President Barack Obama’s behavior the last few days, beginning with his phone call to Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu late Sunday night during a cabinet meeting – the longest in recent years.

Following a weekend during which Israel unanimously rejected Secretary of State John Kerry’s draft for a ceasefire in its current war against Hamas, the president on Sunday reiterated the call for an “immediate, unconditional” ceasefire while mentioning Israeli security concerns only at the end of his statement, at least according to the protocol read out by White House officials.

On Tuesday, Israel’s Channel 1 published what it claimed was a transcript of a call between Netanyahu and Obama in which the latter says that Qatar and Turkey would mediate the ceasefire. The White House and Netanyahu’s Office both dismissed the call as bogus, but Channel 1 and its veteren reporter Oren Nahari stand by the story. Regardless, Obama’s bottom line – that Israel must implement an immediate and unconditional ceasefire – remains faithful to what was said on record.

Obama’s call to Netanyahu came just hours after a Channel 10 poll showed a staggering 87% public support for a continuation of ground operations in Gaza and 69% for toppling Hamas.

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Headlines in Israel late Sunday night played up Obama’s stance as sticking a peg in the wheels of Israel’s efforts to significantly weaken Hamas, but by Monday afternoon most Israeli media outlets were back to reporting on the actual goings on in the battlefield – a careful, undeclared gearing down of violence from both Israel and Hamas. Violence continued but on a lower scale: An Israeli soldier was wounded by sniper fire in Beit Hanoun and the terror groups in Gaza continued sporadically firing rockets.

Ha’aretz, considered the most dovish newspaper in Israel, routinely backs Obama and Kerry and usually lays blame at Netanyahu’s doorstep for the stalled peace process. Following the leak of Kerry’s draft ceasefire proposal, which, the paper claimed, “essentially parrots Hamas’s demands” while ignoring Israel’s security concerns, veteran Haaretz commentator Ari Shavit wrote an article on Monday blaming Kerry for the lack of progress in achieving a truce. Shavit’s article carried the headline “If there is an escalation in violence, it will be Kerry’s fault.” Elsewhere, Shavit defined Kerry’s efforts in the past week a “strategic terror strike aimed at bringing the Muslim Brotherhood’s pact back to life.”

Labor Knesset Member Nachman Shai, also considered to be fairly dovish, said Monday that “Obama’s demand to halt fighting prevents Israel from reaping the fruit of the battle achieved so far. If Israel does not succeed in destroying all the tunnels and Hamas terror infrastructure located near where forces are deployed, Israel will end this campaign with a justified feeling of a missed opportunity.”

In a hint of criticism of Obama’s policy, Shai added: “In the long run, the picture will be different, but it is not at all clear whether in the future there will not be a critical threat of terror tunnels. Without this, the US will not be able to force Hamas to make concessions, and Israel will have to hit the organization again and again.”

Standing politically much farther left than Shai, Meretz MK Zehava Galon echoed the US president’s words but even she reframed them to reflect the Israeli security perspective. Galon said Netanyahu should adopt Obama’s outline for a ceasefire “that must answer Israel security concerns as well as the Palestinians’ wish to lead normal lives, all while keeping the Palestinian authority as part of the solution.”

PA President Mahmoud Abbas was in Jeddah over the weekend meeting with Saudi King Abdullah. Like Egypt and Israel, Abbas too was looking for an alternate route to a ceasefire when Kerry met in Paris with Qatari and Turkish representatives, seeming to effectively play into Hamas’s hands.

Abbas’s visit to Jeddah occurred just days after an article in Al Arabiya called on the Saudi government to sign a peace agreement with Israel. The piece, written by Mohammed al Sheikh who is close to the ruling family, declared that “only peace will bring the Palestinians a state.”

Qatar has been exposed to be openly supporting Hamas; Syria is in tatters; Lebanon is partly ruled by Hezbollah and suffers the brunt of the war in Syria. Most Muslim African nations are experiencing some form of upheaval. Egypt under Sisi has become a close ally with Israel; Saudi Arabia, formerly a disseminator of radical Sunni Islamism, is now threatened by ISIS, a medieval fascist organization. The Saudi overtures of peace bring to the surface what has been evident for a long time: The Arab League is diplomatic carrion.

On Sunday, Jerusalem Post correspondent Khaled Abu Toameh said Abbas was furious that Kerry did not invite PA officials to Paris. Officials in Ramallah warned of “an attempt to sidetrack the PLO as the only legitimate representative of the Palestinians.” A Fatah statement mocked Hamas, saying “Those that want Qatar and Turkey to represent them should go live there.”

On Sunday evening, former Saudi chief of intelligence Turki al-Faisal said Hamas was “responsible for the crimes Israel committed in the Gaza Strip.” This statement, made in an interview to Pan-Arab paper Asharq Alawsat, essentially aligned the Saudi former official with Egypt and Israel.

Asharq Alawsat elsewhere quoted an unnamed Palestinian official as saying that Kerry was exploiting the war to bring the Muslim Brotherhood to influence in the region.

The fighting in Gaza over the past three weeks has brought several geopolitical truths to the surface: The Palestinian nation is torn apart between the more moderate West Bank and the theocratic oppression of Gazans by Hamas; the threat of terrorism no longer necessarily discriminates between Sunnis and Shi’ites, or even Jews and Arabs –  consider that nations like Saudi Arabia, despite being Sunni, are a target for ISIS like any other.

A new axis is emerging de facto in the Middle East: Israel now stands with Jordan, Egypt, the PA and Saudi Arabia against Hamas, Hezbollah, the worldview these groups represent and their sponsor, Iran. The struggle has now become quite simply a fight between nation states and terror groups which are nothing more than destabilizing agents with vague, if any, long-term political goals.

In the meantime, Obama will grant another $47 million in humanitarian aid to Gaza. If past behavior is anything to go by, the money will be used to buy weapons – perhaps this time from North Korea. And if Obama gets his way and the blockade on Gaza is lifted, sneaking them in will be an easier job.

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