Obama's telephone diplomacy on Gaza
File photo
November 19th, 2012
06:44 PM ET

Obama's telephone diplomacy on Gaza

By Jill Dougherty

For the Obama administration, the watchword is "de-escalate." Stop the fighting, especially rocket attacks by Hamas on Israel, then deal with longer-term issues.

But President Barack Obama, who continues to support Israel's right to defend itself while urging that the fighting cease, cannot do it on his own.

From Southeast Asia, where he is his first international trip since his re-election, Obama has talked several times by telephone with two of the central players: Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and Egyptian President Mohamed Morsy.

Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, traveling with him, has been even busier. She's been talking by phone with Israeli, Egyptian, Turkish, Qatari, and French officials, as well as with United Nations Secretary-General Ban Ki Moon, and then briefing the president on those conversations.

Clinton, along with Obama's national security adviser, Tom Donilon, also has been speaking with the U.S. ambassadors in Israel and Egypt, at one point making conference calls from the plane as his party flew into Myanmar.

The objective of the phone blitz, according to Ben Rhodes, the president's deputy national security adviser for strategic communications, is to pressure anyone with influence on either side to use it.

"Our position continues to be that those nations in the region, particularly nations that have influence over Hamas - and that's principally Egypt and Turkey, also Qatar - need to use that influence to de-escalate the conflict. And de-escalation has to begin with, again, an end to rocket fire from Gaza," says Rhodes.

Egypt, which has a peace treaty with Israel, is key. President Obama has spoken with President Morsy three times; Secretary Clinton also has had three conversations so far with Egyptian officials.

"What the U.S. is doing now is working with the Egyptians, working with the Israelis and trying to coordinate with both sides what the terms of a cease-fire would look like," says Middle East expert Haim Malka of the Center for Strategic and International Studies.

Egypt, he says, "has brokered cease-fires between Hamas and Israel in the past and it will be the key to brokering the current cease-fire agreement between Israel and Hamas to end this round of fighting. Egypt doesn't want chaos on its borders."

Chaos, he says, would only worsen Egypt's foundering economy and, to shore up its economic situation, it needs help from the international community, from the European Union, and from the United States which gives it $450 million annually in aid.

But for Morsy's new government, it's a difficult balance. He is a member of the Muslim Brotherhood and many Egyptians have sympathy for Hamas and the Palestinian cause.

"We are subcontracting to the Egyptians," says Aaron David Miller of the Woodrow Wilson International Center for Scholars. Miller sees a link between the fighting in Gaza and the bid by Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas for nonmember observer state status from the U.N. General Assembly

"I think a conscious, willful decision was made on the part of the president (Obama) that if he ever wants to manage Netanyahu on Iran and the peace process, he has to - on this issue and the one that is coming next week, the introduction of Abbas' initiative for state status - he is going to have to come out as hard-line as any president has in supporting Israel, both against Hamas and the rockets on the one hand, and against Abbas' initiative in New York."

It's a bid to "buy time," Miller says, for Turkey and Egypt to work their diplomacy. But, for now, as Obama continues Asian journey, Mideast diplomacy is overshadowing his trip.

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  17. USN Ret.

    Jimmy Carter was the worst President we had. He is a good man in his heart. He also was a poor leader. I was on active duty and had to watch him fumble time and time again during the Iranian hostage crisis and the oil embargo. The man had poor advisors and limited knowledge of the Middle East. As I said good heart lousily leader. I spent 10 months away from my wife and kids in the Indian Ocean because of his blundering.

    November 22, 2012 at 5:01 am | Reply
  18. carolin

    Jimmy Carter was a great President. No doubt about it.

    November 20, 2012 at 2:39 pm | Reply
  19. George

    One of the major accomplishment of President Carter was the peace treaty he made between Egypt and Isreal when Menachem Begin and Answar Sadat were the Presidents in those respective countries. It is a great tribute to President carter that we all owe for his acheivement that still stands. For the Republicans always try to belittle President Carter, they ought to ashamed!!! It is about time for them to call Mr. Carter a hero and a great president of the country.

    November 20, 2012 at 2:24 pm | Reply
  20. Hahahahhahaha

    I wish Faux News had a comment section. Now THAT would be fun!!!!! Hahahahahahahahaha

    November 20, 2012 at 12:10 pm | Reply
  21. simp

    @guy who craps on your face while you sleep
    you are a complete idiot. stop watching fox news and pick up a book, any book and get educated. all this other haters of President Obama... I love it!! He's there for 4 MORE YEARS deal with whether you like it or not LOL!!!!!!

    November 20, 2012 at 9:57 am | Reply
  22. Chuk

    Nonesense. Netanyahu is a thug. And the last thing a thug wants to do is pick on people their own size. He just can't wait to get to the ground invasion because he's going against people who are poorly armed. And with their "iron dome" what could go wrong.
    If Netanyahu wants to impress the world go to war with someone your own size, say Iran, and do so without badgering the US for help. That would not happen. What will happen is for Netanyahu to fan the flames of war and once it starts, he'd seat back and watch. When was the last time Israel helped their "partner" in any war?

    November 20, 2012 at 7:58 am | Reply
    • michaelfury

      "The Israeli newspaper Ma'ariv on Wednesday reported that Likud leader Benjamin Netanyahu told an audience at Bar Ilan university that the September 11, 2001 terror attacks had been beneficial for Israel.

      "We are benefiting from one thing, and that is the attack on the Twin Towers and Pentagon, and the American struggle in Iraq," Ma'ariv quoted the former prime minister as saying. He reportedly added that these events "swung American public opinion in our favor."

      – Haaretz, April 16, 2008


      November 20, 2012 at 8:44 am | Reply
  23. Promised Land

    Thank God Presidents only get 8 years. Now we have to get term limits for the House and Senate!

    November 20, 2012 at 12:24 am | Reply
    • sassysticks53

      LOL! We needed term limits for G.W. Bush's tenure!

      November 20, 2012 at 11:50 am | Reply
  24. Promised Land

    Der Fuehrer has spoken. Move along Comrades, do not question me, move along!!!!

    November 20, 2012 at 12:21 am | Reply
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      November 20, 2012 at 11:51 am | Reply
  25. halo117

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    Obama is a BIG FOOD KING LIAR to the American people...He OWN'S this.

    November 19, 2012 at 8:04 pm | Reply
    • The Guy Who Craps On Your Face While You're Asleep

      Wow! A politician who lies to the electorate. Who'da thunk it.

      Petraeus is a casualty of the long standing mutual contempt and hatred that the CIA and FBI have for one another. No big loss.

      November 19, 2012 at 11:45 pm | Reply
    • rawr

      Yet the intel community came out last night (DNI, Clapper) and said that they were the ones to alter the "talking points." This situation where we have to be so stalwart in our support of Israel at all times is distressing. I sympathize with them, but I understand that they also have been laying the foundation for this kind of pent up aggression. I don't like that we have to placate them to not strike Iran when our own interests are threatened. It's a difficult, annoying situation to be in with this Prime Minister.

      November 20, 2012 at 9:41 am | Reply
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      November 20, 2012 at 2:17 pm | Reply
  26. Ahhhh shucks

    Campaign, vacation, campaign... another vacation, and now he has to make a phone call. Ahhhh, shucks, the demands of office are just too much...time for another vacation.

    November 19, 2012 at 7:53 pm | Reply
    • Dan5404

      It would be better if you and your minority extremist friends took a vacation in Mississippi, the weather and political climate should suit you just fine. Sorry, but the black man won again!

      November 19, 2012 at 9:05 pm | Reply
    • The Guy Who Craps On Your Face While You're Asleep

      You might want to look up the "vacation time" of your messiah, Dubya, if so inclined. Not that you are.

      November 19, 2012 at 11:49 pm | Reply
  27. Paul


    November 19, 2012 at 7:47 pm | Reply
    • terriknoll

      I am believing he will quit this crap! We need to stay on him and Hilary!

      November 19, 2012 at 7:58 pm | Reply
    • The Guy Who Craps On Your Face While You're Asleep


      November 19, 2012 at 11:52 pm | Reply
  28. Smeagel4T

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    November 19, 2012 at 7:34 pm | Reply
  29. cosmo

    Like Israel cares what Obama has to say..

    November 19, 2012 at 7:29 pm | Reply
    • The Guy Who Craps On Your Face While You're Asleep


      November 19, 2012 at 11:53 pm | Reply
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    November 19, 2012 at 7:27 pm | Reply
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    November 19, 2012 at 7:14 pm | Reply
    • socalgal

      if the palestinians protested as much about being used as pawns this would have been over decades ago.

      November 19, 2012 at 7:29 pm | Reply
  32. American

    The token swirl once again shows that he is anti-Israel and pro Muslim.

    November 19, 2012 at 7:01 pm | Reply
    • HincEtInde

      I guess that is why he increased aid to Israel for 2012 too.

      November 19, 2012 at 7:14 pm | Reply
    • terriknoll

      you are an idiot. go back to watching Faux News and stay out of real news.

      November 19, 2012 at 7:56 pm | Reply
    • Howard's Daddy

      The Iron Dome? Millions of US dollars paid for by Congress because of Obama. Of course he is "anti-Israel.'

      November 19, 2012 at 8:41 pm | Reply

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