Talks in Egypt start to flesh out cease-fire details
By HERB KEINON
US links end to arms smuggling to easing restrictions on Gaza; DC views support of Israel's right to self defense as key to truce.
Washington understands well that Israel’s restrictions on the Gaza Strip are
related to arms smuggling, and that a total relaxation of the restrictions would
necessitate assurances that arms stop pouring into the enclave, a senior US
official said Monday.
The official’s comments came as Egyptian mediators
began separate talks Monday with Hamas and Israel to flesh out details of last
The US official said that as a “goodwill gesture”
Israel agreed to extend Palestinian fishing rights from three to six miles off
the Gaza coast.
An Egyptian official told Reuters the talks would discuss
Palestinian demands for the opening of more Israeli crossings into Gaza. Senior
Hamas leader Mahmoud Zahar told reporters on Saturday that the group wanted to
see the opening of all four goods crossings with Israel that used to operate
The senior US official said that Washington realized that
stopping the smuggling is a “critical element” of the cease-fire, and that the
US will make this a priority in its discussions with the Egyptians and other
The specific mechanisms of how to fight the
smuggling were still to be worked out, he said.
According to the
official, US President Barack Obama spoke to Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu
four times during the eight-day Gaza crisis, and with Egyptian President Mohamed
Morsi six times. During part of the crisis Obama was on a state visit to
Thailand, Myanmar and Cambodia, but still remained in close contact with the
parties in the region.
The official provided the following chronology of
• On November 14, the day Israel killed Hamas military chief
Ahmed Jabari, Obama spoke by phone with Netanyahu and President Shimon Peres in
pre-arranged congratulatory calls for his reelection.
He heard from
Netanyahu about the Jabari operation and the possibility of a ground operation
into the Gaza Strip if the missile and rocket attacks did not stop. Obama made
clear that he fully understood Israel’s right to self-defense and supported it,
and also understood that the hundreds of rockets over the last few weeks were
the cause of the attack on Jabari.
• Obama spoke to Morsi that night and
discussed the role Egypt could play in the deescalation.
• Obama spoke
again with Netanyahu and Morsi two days later, as well as with Turkish Prime
Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan.
• Obama embarked on his trip to Asia on
November 17, accompanied by Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, who spoke
continuously with her French, Qatari, Turkish and Egyptian counterparts, as well
as with Foreign Minister Avigdor Liberman and UN Secretary-General Ban
• Obama gave a press conference in Bangkok where he said it was
his preference that the crisis be solved diplomatically, but stressed that
Israel had a right to defend itself, the rockets needed to stop, and Egypt had a
key role to play.
• At 4:30 a.m. on the morning of November 19 US
ambassador Daniel Shapiro met with Israeli officials in Tel Aviv to discuss the
content of ceasefire discussions being held between Israel and Egypt. This
convinced the Americans that it was worth sending Clinton to the
• On November 19 Obama spoke to Netanyahu, and phoned Morsi
Morsi then called the president for a third conversation.
Clinton arrived in Israel on the November 20 and went directly to a meeting with
Netanyahu. She also met with Defense Minister Ehud Barak, Liberman and National
Security Adviser Yaakov Amidror to review the cease-fire draft, and discuss what
would be required to bring about a successful conclusion.
• Clinton went
to Ramallah the next morning and, at Netanyahu’s request, returned to Jerusalem
for another meeting. That meeting gave her a clear idea of how to approach the
discussion with the Egyptians.
• As Clinton arrived at Ben-Gurion
Airport, she heard news of the Tel Aviv bus bombing, and called the Prime
Minister’s Office to see if there was a change in Israel’s approach. She was
told there was not.
• Clinton traveled to Cairo where the Egyptians used
their influence on Hamas and the Palestinian factions to agree to the
• Obama then called Netanyahu and recommended Israel accept the
ceasefire. He then called Morsi to thank Egypt for its role.
official said three elements made bringing about the cease-fire
The first was the unequivocal US support for Israel’s right to
self- defense. This was something repeated often by Obama and other US
representatives, and left no doubt in the international community of where the
US stood on the matter.
The second element was the close cooperation
between Israel and the US, with Israel seeking Washington’s views and help in
bringing the matter to a conclusion when some gaps still remained.
the third element was the close US – and Israeli – engagement with Egypt. Egypt
was recognized as the “only party that could influence Hamas and get them to
accept certain things,” the senior US official said.
Cairo, the official
said, “played that role and delivered.”
Reuters contributed to this