Clinton’s peacemaking trip is Obama’s clearest signal yet to Israel that it should begin to pull back its campaign against militants in the Gaza Strip. The administration knows that with Clinton on the ground trying to resolve the crisis, it will be harder for Netanyahu to make good on his threat to invade Gaza.
Obama and his administration have expressed full support for Israel since the conflict began last week, but diplomatic pressure is building for a cease-fire that would end Israeli airstrikes and Hamas rocket attacks, both of which are killing civilians.
Israel says it is pressing its air campaign in Gaza to reduce the militants’ ability to fire rockets into Israel.
The international diplomatic push to end the Gaza offensive appeared to gain momentum early Tuesday, with Morsi predicting that attacks would soon end and Netanyahu saying Israel would be a “willing partner” in a cease-fire with Palestinian militants in Gaza. But the Israeli leader later made it clear he was not ruling out a ground invasion.
If Egypt was to succeed in brokering a cease-fire or a temporary calming of tensions, Clinton’s presence would add diplomatic heft to make it stick. She could also congratulate the new Islamist government there for upholding Egypt’s 30-year position as a peacemaker, a bottom-line goal for the United States as it remakes its relationship with Cairo after the fall of U.S.-backed autocrat Hosni Mubarak.
“In the days ahead, the United States will work with our partners here in Israel and across the region for an outcome that bolsters security for the people of Israel, improves conditions for the people of Gaza and moves toward a comprehensive peace for all peoples of the region,” Clinton said before a late-night meeting with Netanyahu in Jerusalem.
She was also to see Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas before heading to Cairo, where U.S. officials are hopeful a deal can be announced. Clinton will not see any representatives of the Palestinian Hamas faction that controls Gaza and pledges armed resistance against bordering Israel.
Clinton rushed to Israel after Obama dispatched her from Cambodia, where she was accompanying him on his Asia trip. Her entry follows days of intensive telephone diplomacy, including three conversations in two days between Obama and Morsi.
“Sometimes there’s no substitution for showing up,” State Department spokeswoman Victoria Nuland said Tuesday. “The president and she obviously thought that her going and actually sitting down with leaders — with Prime Minister Netanyahu, with President Abbas and with President Morsi — could help de-escalate the situation. So it was obviously important to leave no stone unturned.”