A former senior Israeli official who has been briefed on the negotiations said both sides have made it clear that they prefer a cease-fire to avert a ground invasion by Israel, which could multiply casualties and spark a broader regional conflagration. But neither wants to back down without getting significant concessions, said the former official, who spoke on the condition of anonymity to discuss private negotiations.
The Israelis, the former official said, want a commitment that Egypt will do a better job of policing its porous border with Gaza, which includes dozens of tunnels that are used to smuggle everything from vehicles to long-range rocket parts. Hamas, which rules Gaza, wants Israel to lift its blockade of the enclave, home to 1.7 million Palestinians.
Putting to rest rumors and assertions throughout the day that suggested a cease-fire deal was imminent, Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu made it clear to Clinton that he has not ruled out a ground invasion.
“If there is a possibility of achieving a long-term solution to this problem through diplomatic means, we prefer that,” Netanyahu said. “If not, I’m sure you understand that Israel will have to take whatever action is necessary to defend its people. This is something I don’t have to explain to Americans.”
The impasse was a blow to Egyptian President Mohamed Morsi, who had said earlier Tuesday that he expected a deal within hours. The Israeli military said Gaza militants launched 200 rockets Tuesday, while Israel struck more than 133 targets in Gaza.
Clinton, looking weary after flying across five time zones from Cambodia, where she had been attending a regional summit with President Obama, spoke firmly about her desire to avert greater bloodshed.
“America’s commitment to Israel’s security is rock-solid and unwavering,” Clinton said late Tuesday before sitting down with Netanyahu. “That is why we believe it is essential to de-escalate the situation in Gaza.”
Key sticking points
The former Israeli official briefed on the discussions said a key concern is clearly defining the role that Egypt would play as a guarantor if a deal were reached.
“The cessation of smuggling requires a strong Egyptian role,” the former official said. “I don’t believe Hamas will commit to halt smuggling weapons.”
In her remarks to Netanyahu, Clinton also stressed the pivotal part Egypt stands to play, saying that “as a regional leader and neighbor, Egypt has the opportunity and responsibility to continue playing a crucial and constructive role in this process.”