Obama Prepared to Send Kerry to Mideast for Talks on Gaza
by Scott Stearns July 18, 2014
U.S. President Barack Obama said he is prepared to send Secretary of State John Kerry to the Middle East to help end violence between Israel and Hamas fighters in Gaza. But American officials face a far different political climate than the last cease-fire in Gaza two years ago.
With Israeli troops across the border in Gaza, international mediators are trying to revive Egyptian efforts to negotiate an end to the fighting.
Obama said he told Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu that U.S. officials are working hard to return to a November 2012 cease-fire.
'Secretary Kerry is working to support Egypt's initiative to pursue that outcome. I told Prime Minister Netanyahu that John is prepared to travel to the region following additional consultations,' Obama said.
Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas has met with Arab League officials about the Egyptian plan. But it is opposition from Hamas that is blocking progress - as militant leaders dismiss the plan as 'not worth the ink it was written with' -- in their words -- because it includes no relief from the Israeli and Egyptian blockade of Gaza's borders.
Hamas' refusal of the deal shows how much has changed since the fall of former Egyptian President Mohammed Morsi and his Muslim Brotherhood, which helped broker the 2012 cease-fire.
'Hamas certainly had a honeymoon with Egypt during the reign or rule of Morsi and the Brotherhood. And that honeymoon is clearly over,' said former U.S. ambassador Adam Ereli.
It is over largely because the new Egyptian president, former general Abdel Fattah al-Sisi, has vowed to eliminate the Muslim Brotherhood and is thus far less sympathetic to its Hamas allies.
'Hamas doesn't see Egypt as an honest broker because Hamas -- as an offshoot of the Muslim Brotherhood -- is not treated as a legitimate player by the Egyptian government,' said American University professor Guy Ziv. 'And I think that because of the lack of trust between Egypt and Hamas it's going to be very difficult to get a cease-fire going that both Hamas and Israel would be OK with.'
That leaves Hamas with few other options as Israel continues to move forward.
'To be a broker you've got to be acceptable to both parties. Egypt and Jordan are the only Arab countries with peace treaties with Israel. So they have credibility with the Israelis, justified credibility,' Ereli said. 'If Hamas doesn't think that Egypt is sufficiently neutral in this they're going to be fighting for a long time.'
So U.S. officials say Secretary Kerry will focus much of his diplomatic effort on countries with influence over Hamas, including Turkey and Qatar.
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