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Netanyahu's deliberate choice of words on Gaza cease-fire

In his reaction to the cease-fire between Israel and the Palestinian Hamas faction in Gaza, Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu chose his words very carefully, deciding to position himself as reluctant about the truce that went into effect today.


An official announcement from Netanyahu's office said that in his latest telephone conversation with President Obama, the prime minister "acceded to his recommendation to give the Egyptian cease-fire proposal a chance."

Netanyahu's choice of words is largely due to his genuine skepticism that the terms of the truce will hold. But also, he is trying to be as friendly as possible with the recently re-elected President Obama. Israel will likely need Mr. Obama's support in 2013, when the simmering crisis over Iran's nuclear program is likely to come to a head - either through diplomacy or military action.

In addition, Netanyahu himself hopes to be re-elected in the Israeli election on January 22. The military clash with Hamas, during the past week, gave him an opportunity to portray himself as a tough leader whose first priority is the security of Israelis who were concerned about the threat of rockets from Gaza.

At an official announcement in Jerusalem, Netanyahu and other senior officials pointed to accomplishments scored by Israel in the past week: killing many Hamas "terrorist leaders" in Gaza and destroying hundreds of missiles before they could be launched at Israel.


Netanyahu thanked Israeli soldiers, notably tens of thousands of reservists who left their jobs and families to get ready near the Gaza border, as well as Israeli intelligence services that were able to provide targeting information. His remarks in Hebrew were followed up by Defense Minister Ehud Barak, who heads his own small political party, and by Foreign Minister Avigdor Lieberman, whose party has temporarily merged with Netanyahu's Likud Party for this election campaign.

The prime minister also thanked Secretary of State Hillary Clinton for her personal involvement. She left Mr. Obama's tour of Southeast Asia to rush to Jerusalem and had three meetings with Netanyahu. She also went to nearby Ramallah, in the West Bank, to confer with Mahmoud Abbas, president of the Palestinian Authority.

Netanyahu said many Israeli people were expecting even more military action - referring to the possibility of a ground invasion of Gaza, something that Israel did do in late 2008. More than 1,000 Palestinian deaths and 13 Israeli deaths occurred in that brief war. In this past week, according to health officials, more than 130 Palestinians - up to one-third of them children - and 5 Israelis were killed.

Netanyahu said it still is possible, with many missiles provided by Iran still in the hands of Hamas, that Israel will find a need for further military strikes. But one reason for accepting the truce, however reluctantly, is that Israeli citizens living in the south of their country deserve some peace and quiet.

He is deeply skeptical that the Islamic radicals of Hamas will adhere to a ceasefire, and there is also the problem that other factions inside the Gaza Strip have frequently fired rockets and mortar shells into Israel in order to stir up trouble or act as heroes.

Israel will face a dilemma - whether to respond to such attacks - if they do occur and don't seem definitely linked with Hamas, the faction that has ruled Gaza for most of the years since Israel pulled out its troops and Jewish settlers in 2005.

At the Jerusalem announcement, Netanyahu said that, above all, he was thanking the Israeli people - concluding: "I am proud to be your prime minister."

At about the same time, Hamas was celebrating what its leaders see as major strides ahead in the past week: challenging Israeli military power, suffering significant casualties in Gaza while holding together support for Hamas, making the rival Fatah faction in the West Bank look irrelevant, and achieving recognition when Egyptian and other foreign officials came to Gaza to show solidarity.

There is fear, in the Middle East, that eventually the Israelis and the Palestinians of Gaza will fight each other again. Some diplomats are wondering what the United States might do to make Secretary of State Clinton's statement - that the ceasefire deal can be a step to "move us toward a comprehensive peace for all the people of the region" - more than a rhetorical hope.

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