Yesterday, President Obama telephoned PM Netanyahu. I’m going to try to explicate the White House ‘readout’ of the call so that non-diplomats can understand it.
It seems to me that he proposes a three-stage process: an immediate ceasefire, a medium-term amelioration of conditions in Gaza, and a long-term ‘solution’ to the conflict. While the demands of Hamas are met in the second stage, Israel’s needs are left for the last one.
President Obama and Prime Minister Netanyahu spoke again today by phone about the situation in Gaza. The President underscored the United States’ strong condemnation of Hamas’ rocket and tunnel attacks against Israel and reaffirmed Israel’s right to defend itself.
This is the ritualistic incantation of his inherent pro-Israelness. It is abstract, not concrete: it is intended to reassure his pro-Israel constituents and does not imply any specific actions.
The President also reiterated the United States’ serious and growing concern about the rising number of Palestinian civilian deaths and the loss of Israeli lives, as well as the worsening humanitarian situation in Gaza.
He expresses his feeling that innocent people are getting hurt, but he separates Palestinian and Israeli deaths and mentions Palestinian ones first. He decries the “worsening humanitarian situation in Gaza” but he doesn’t mention the effects on Israel of the sustained rocket barrage and other terrorism emanating from Gaza.
Building on Secretary Kerry’s efforts, the President made clear the strategic imperative of instituting an immediate, unconditional humanitarian ceasefire that ends hostilities now and leads to a permanent cessation of hostilities based on the November 2012 ceasefire agreement.
This is the first stage. He wants the all military activity to stop in place, now. He does not mention Israel’s concern about the imminent danger from tunnels (the 2012 agreement simply calls for an end to hostilities with other issues to be dealt with later). Presumably negotiations will follow in which Israel and Hamas’ concerns will be taken up.
The President reaffirmed the United States’ support for Egypt’s initiative, as well as regional and international coordination to end hostilities.
He is saying that other parties in addition to Egypt should be involved in the negotiations. Based on the mention of “Secretary Kerry’s efforts” in the previous quotation, I assume he means the US, UN, EU, Arab League, the PA, Turkey and Qatar, all of which are mentioned in Kerry’s draft proposal . Turkey and Qatar are the major backers of Hamas, and none of the others are particularly friendly to Israel.
The President underscored the enduring importance of ensuring Israel’s security, protecting civilians, alleviating Gaza’s humanitarian crisis, and enacting a sustainable ceasefire that both allows Palestinians in Gaza to lead normal lives and addresses Gaza’s long-term development and economic needs, while strengthening the Palestinian Authority.
This seems to be the intermediate-term goal, after the initial end of hostilities. There is a single mention of Israel’s security, and then a longer, more detailed, nod to Hamas’ demands (opening crossings, paying salaries, lifting the blockade). The emphasis is clearly on conditions in Gaza, and it’s hard to avoid feeling that he’s thinking much more about this than about Israel’s 13-year experience with rockets. There is no suggestion that Hamas give up its rockets or other weapons.
The President stressed the U.S. view that, ultimately, any lasting solution to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict must ensure the disarmament of terrorist groups and the demilitarization of Gaza.
Finally we arrive at the third stage, when we “ultimately” develop a “lasting solution” to the conflict.
Only at this point does he talk about disarming terrorists and demilitarizing Gaza!
The implication is that this will take place as part of a complete solution, which I presume he envisages as including the creation of a Palestinian state, etc. For reasons which should be abundantly clear by now, this is not likely to happen in any of our lifetimes.
Israelis are not willing to continue fighting a war every several years, each time against a more sophisticated enemy with a larger arsenal of more effective rockets. A ceasefire which does not include concrete steps to take away the rockets and other weapons, destroy all attack tunnels, and provide mechanisms to ensure that the terrorists do not rearm would render Israel’s heavy sacrifices in this conflict worthless. The ‘rebuilding’ of Gaza that would take place in Obama’s second stage would include (probably primarily comprise) the rebuilding of Hamas’ offensive capabilities.
No ceasefire plan that does not include concrete steps to disarm the terrorists as soon as possible can be accepted by Israel. Obama places the satisfaction of Hamas’ demands — couched in the language of humanitarianism but practically enabling the strengthening of its military capabilities — ahead of Israel’s security concerns, which are relegated to the hoped-for future alluded to by the third stage.
The only alternative that Israel has is to keep fighting until Hamas and the other factions are effectively neutralized or until the international community proposes a ceasefire plan that provides for their effective and speedy disarmament.
If Obama and others really care about the fate of Gaza residents, they will support that kind of ceasefire.