Obama pushed Israel to accept Egyptian cease-fire agreement friendly to Hamas

Neil Munro White House Correspondent
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President Barack Obama pressured Israel’s prime minister to adopt a cease-fire agreement with Hamas that was pushed by Hamas’ Egyptian ally, according to a White House statement released on Wednesday.

Obama “commended [Israel’s] Prime Minister for agreeing to the Egyptian ceasefire proposal – which the President recommended the Prime Minster do,” said the 12.31 a.m. EST statement from the White House. (RELATED: Egypt says Gaza cease-fire deal reached)

The cease-fire terms released by Egyptian President Mohammed Morsi’s office do not mention any measures to penalize Hamas for launching another wave of rocket attacks against Israel.

“A. Israel should stop all hostilities in the Gaza Strip land, sea and air including incursions and targeting of individuals. … All Palestinian factions shall stop all hostilities from the Gaza Strip against Israel including rocket attacks and all attacks along the border,” said the statement.

The announcement also seems to accept Hamas’s demand for an end to Israeli restrictions on the importation of military-related items into the enclave, and its ban on movement of Hamas’ people from Gaza to the nearby West Bank, which is ruled by an unpopular Arab authority that has curbed attacks against Israel.

“Refraining from restricting residents’ free movements and targeting residents in border areas and procedures of implementation shall be dealt with after 24 hours from the start of the ceasefire,” said the announcement.

The announcement does not include mechanisms to enforce Hamas’s compliance. “Each party shall commit itself not to perform any acts that would breach this understanding,” said the statement.

A Nov. 21 White House statement commended Morsi for his role in the negotiations, which only began after Israel responded to Hamas’ early-November bombardment of Israeli towns.

“President Obama spoke to President Morsi today … [and] thanked President Morsi for his efforts to achieve a sustainable ceasefire and for his personal leadership in negotiating a ceasefire proposal,” said the Nov. 21, 1:09 p.m. statement.

Obama’s applause for Morsi continues his 2009 outreach to Islamist parties. The outreach is intended to boost Islamist political groups — including the Muslim Brotherhood — and undermine the Arab public’s support for jihadi groups.

That outreach goal was echoed by Secretary of State Hillary Clinton during a press event in Cairo. “Egypt’s new government is assuming the responsibility and leadership that has long made this country cornerstone of regional stability,” she claimed.

However, most Islamist groups — including the brotherhood groups and Turkey’s Islamist party — continue to publicly align and cooperate with the popular jihadi groups, such as Hamas.

In contrast to the applause given to Morsi, the White House statement about Obama’s phone call with Israel’s prime minister, Benjamin Netanyahu, was guarded. (RELATED: Obama offered to establish full ties with Iran)

“The President expressed his appreciation for the Prime Minister’s efforts to work with the new Egyptian government to achieve a sustainable ceasefire and a more durable solution to this problem,” said the statement, which did not include any mention of Obama thanking Netanyahu for agreeing to the cease-fire proposal.

“The President made clear that no country can be expected to tolerate rocket attacks against civilians,” said the statement, without objecting to Hamas rocket attacks against military targets.

The statement about Obama’s talks with Morsi were friendlier.

“President Obama and President Morsi agreed on the importance of working toward a more durable solution to the situation in Gaza. … Obama reaffirmed the close partnership between the United States and Egypt, and welcomed President Morsi’s commitment to regional security.”

Obama has spoken to Morsi four times in the last two days. (RELATED: Obama thanks Morsi, another Islamist leader for Election Day congratulations)

Without Morsi’s public backing for explicit anti-Hamas curbs, any curbs may be abandoned amid ballot-box pressure from the Egyptian electorate’s increasingly anti-Israeli attitude.

The White House statement about the phone call with Netanyahu mentioned some security goals sought by Israel, whose civilians are periodically rocketed by Hamas’ jihadis.

Obama “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. … [And] the President said that he was committed to seeking additional funding for Iron Dome and other US-Israel missile defense programs,” according to the statement.

The absence of any enforceable terms in an inconclusive cease-fire agreement, which would still prevent Israel’s threatened ground movement into the enclave, will be touted as a victory by Hamas and its allies.

Hamas’ allies wanted to stop an Israeli movement that could have killed many of Hamas’s jihadis and leaders, destroyed more of their hidden weapons and demonstrated their inability to maintain control of their territory.

Also, any cease-fire arrangement without terms is a de facto rejection by the United States and Egypt of Israel’s goals for peace.

Israel’s government had sought new curbs on Hamas’ ability to smuggle rockets and other weapons into the enclave, and for the creation of a kilometer-wide buffer zone between Israel and Gaza. They sought the buffer because local jihadis routinely launch rockets at Israeli border patrols and farmers.

Morsi and Hamas are ideological allies.

Hamas is the Gaza-based affiliate of the international Muslim Brotherhood Islamist movement, which is based in Egypt.

Morsi headed the brotherhood’s Egyptian political party prior to his election to the presidency in June 2012. Both groups share the same Islamist ideology, which commingles Islamic theocracy and support for religious war, or jihad.

The brotherhood’s symbol shows a Koran and two crossed swords. Its motto declares that “Allah is our objective. The Prophet is our leader. Qur’an is our law. Jihad is our way. Dying in the way of Allah is our highest hope.”

Hamas’s charter echoes the brotherhood’s aggressive language. “The Islamic Resistance Movement is one link in the chain of jihad in confronting the Zionist invasion… Allah is its goal, the Prophet its model to be followed, the Koran its constitution, Jihad its way, and death for the sake of Allah its loftiest desire,” says the charter.

Throughout the battle, Egypt’s Islamist government has aligned itself with Hamas, partly because Egypt’s population has become increasingly anti-Israel since the forced departure of Egypt’s strongman Hosni Mubarak in 2010.

Polls show that Egyptian voters overwhelmingly object to the existence of a land governed by Jews in the Middle East.

On Nov. 20, Morsi described Israel’s counter-attack against Hamas as “aggression.”

Morsi’s choice for prime minister, Hisham Kandil, visited Gaza with Hamas’s leader, Ismail Haniyeh. (RELATED: Morsi demands curbs on free-speech rights at United Nations)

“What I saw in the hospital, the wounded and the martyrs, the boy, the martyr Mohammad Yasser, whose blood is still on my hands and clothes, is something that we cannot keep silent about,” he said later.

Subsequent reports suggested the child was killed by an errant Hamas rocket, not by an Israeli strike.

U.S. officials, including Obama, have tried to establish good relations with Morsi and other brotherhood-linked leaders in Tunisia, Syria, Yemen and other Arab countries.

However, they refuse face-to-face deals with Hamas, the brotherhood’s Gaza affiliate.

“Hamas has not met the conditions that we’ve set for many years — to renounce terrorism, to recognize Israel’s right to exist, and to abide by preexisting agreements. … So we do not engage directly with Hamas,” a White House spokesman said Nov. 20.

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