US PRESIDENT Barack Obama has heaped praise on Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu for agreeing to the Egyptian ceasefire plan and offered increased US funding to beef up Israel’s air defences.
The statement from the White House was couched in extremely supportive terms for Israel, which the Obama administration views as necessary if it is to hold out hopes of persuading Mr Netanyahu to engage in broader peace negotiations. But in an unusual twist, it highlighted that Mr Netanyahu had followed Mr Obama’s advice.
”The president said that the United States would use the opportunity offered by a ceasefire to intensify efforts to help Israel address its security needs, especially the issue of the smuggling of weapons and explosives into Gaza,” the White House statement read.
”The president commended the prime minister for agreeing to the Egyptian ceasefire proposal – which the president recommended the prime minster do – while reiterating that Israel maintains the right to defend itself.”
Reaction on the streets of Israel was negative.
”This is a pause, not a peace,” said Ya’ara Menachem, a 41-year-old resident of the southern Israeli city of Sderot. ”We don’t believe in ceasefires any more.”
”We didn’t live under this rocket fire, which disrupted our lives and our children’s lives, just to buy another couple years of quiet,” said Chaim Levin, another Sderot resident.
”We wanted to see the (army) go into Gaza. I don’t care, let the army do whatever it takes, just make sure there are no more rockets.”
A snap poll on Israel’s Channel Two news found that 70 per cent of the Israeli public did not support signing a ceasefire with Hamas, 24 per cent were in favour and 6 per cent were undecided.
In Gaza City, Palestinian Samer Mazar said he was holding off on moving his family back to their home near the border with Israel.
”I want to see if the ceasefire holds up first,” he said. ”We do not trust them when they say it is over. We have to see it first.”
The White House’s statement marked the end of a feverish few days of telephone diplomacy.
Mr Obama skipped dessert at the East Asia Summit in Cambodia on Monday to call Egyptian President Mohamed Morsi.
Over the next 25 minutes, he and the Egyptian leader ran through ways to end the Gaza conflict, a conversation that would lead Mr Obama to send US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton to the region.
Mr Obama talked with Dr Morsi three times within 24 hours and six times over several days, telling aides he was impressed with the Egyptian’s pragmatic confidence.
”The thing that appealed to [Mr Obama] was how practical the conversations were – here’s the state of play, here are the issues we’re concerned about,” said a senior US official . ”This was somebody focused on solving problems.”
Speaking at a hotel in Cairo, Hamas chief Khaled Meshal was also quick to praise Dr Morsi.
”I would like to thank our dear Egypt, aided by the brave elected President Mohamed Morsi . . . Egypt acted responsibly and understood the demands of the resistance and the Palestinian people,” he said.
Mr Meshal warned Israel against violating the agreement. ”If you commit, we will commit. If you do not commit, the rifles are in our hands,” he said, adding ”we will continue to arm ourselves”.
He said an attack on a Tel Aviv bus that injured 17 people on Wednesday ”was assisted by God at the right moment to send a message”.
There is a division among diplomats and analysts in Washington over what Mr Obama will do about the Israeli-Palestinian conflict in his second term, with some predicting he will be ”brave”, viewing it as one of the causes of anti-western sentiment in the Muslim world.
Sending Mrs Clinton to the region adds credence to this prediction of greater US involvement.
Others predict Mr Obama will be too preoccupied with the economy, immigration reform and other domestic issues to invest in a Middle East peace process.
GUARDIAN, NYT, AGENCIES
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