John Kerry’s back in Cairo, but the Egyptians don’t appear to be thrilled to have him as a guest. The US Secretary of State got held up in this notable break from protocol while entering the presidential palace to meet President al-Sisi:
This doesn't happen often – Secretary Kerry got wanded by an Egyptian security officer on his way into the presidential palace here
— Ali Rogin (@AliRogin) July 22, 2014
TV Pool says a guard subjected @JohnKerry to a handheld metal detector as he entered Egypt's Pres Palace for a meeting with Pres al-Sisi.
— Mark Knoller (@markknoller) July 22, 2014
Kerry returned to Egypt to press forward on a cease fire in Gaza that neither of the combatants want at the moment. Hamas refuses to accept Egypt’s terms, which amount to a total loss. Israel, now that it’s been forced into a ground campaign, wants to destroy the tunnel system used by Hamas to attack Israel before finishing its operations:
The Islamist militant organization Hamas said Monday that it would not agree to a cease-fire with Israel until its demands were met, as Israel warned that its incursion into the Gaza Strip could continue for days or even weeks.
The stark assessments offered little hope for quick progress toward ending a 14-day-old conflict that has inflicted heavy costs on each side.
Seven more Israeli soldiers were killed in fierce fighting Monday, bringing the Israeli military toll to 27 dead, more than twice as many as in Israel’s last Gaza ground incursion in 2009 and the highest toll since Israel’s war with Lebanon in 2006. Two Israeli civilians have died in the conflict.
More than 560 people in Gaza, many of them women and children, have been killed since Israel’s Operation Protective Edge began.
Israeli Defense Minister Moshe Yaalon said the Gaza military operation, which is now focused on finding and destroying underground tunnels, would continue “as long as necessary until the completion of the task and the return of the quiet in the whole of Israel.”
Kerry eventually wants to go to Israel to discuss a cease-fire with the Netanyahu government, but the Israelis warn that Kerry will get the same friendly treatment he just received in Cairo should he arrive:
On Sunday, the top American diplomat sparked controversy when he inadvertently was recorded talking to aide and questioned the “pinpoint” accuracy of Israel’s military operations in Gaza.
A former Israeli ambassador to Washington, Michael Oren, told Israeli television Monday that Mr. Netanyahu’s government had “not invited” Mr. Kerry to try and broker a cease-fire. …
A senior administration official said the U.S. believed Israel was generally on board with an immediate cease-fire because Mr. Netanyahu indicated as much in his conversations with Mr. Obama and Mr. Kerry, and Israel supported the Egypt proposal last week.
Israel will support a new proposal, the U.S. believes, if leaders feels there is a diplomatic solution that addresses their concerns about ending rocket fire from Hamas.
Don’t bet on it. The ground incursion has changed the calculation, especially with the loss of IDF personnel and the attempts by Hamas to infiltrate Israel through the tunnels. Israel has the justification of the war Hamas provoked and prolonged to go after the tunnels and greatly reduce the capabilities of Hamas in Gaza. That opportunity will not arise again soon. Now that the operation is under way, Israel at least wants to destroy the tunnels that go under Gaza’s borders. And as long as Hamas keeps firing missiles and using those tunnels to conduct attacks, they have no reason to stop.
One former State Department official tells CNN the same thing:
Talks should focus on a return to the cease-fire deal that stopped the conflict between Israel and Hamas in November 2012, the President said at the White House. “We don’t want to see any more” civilian deaths in Gaza or Israel, he said.
But some observers say the chances of a breakthrough remain slim.
“It is going to be very difficult to get a cease-fire right now, you see the objectives of both sides have changed a little bit over the last few days,” said David Tafuri, a former U.S. State Department and U.N. official
“Hamas is now using tunnels to make ground attacks in Israel — clearly they feel like they haven’t done enough damage with the rockets,” said Tafuri, who now works for the law and lobbying firm Patton Boggs. “Israel is now focused on destroying those tunnels. Israel says it needs more time to get all of the tunnels.”
Tzipi Livni, the Justice Minister from Netanyahu’s leftward opposition, also dismissed the idea of a cease-fire now:
Justice Minister Tzipi Livni dismissed on Tuesday the possibility of an imminent halt in fighting between Israel and Hamas in Gaza, adding that the IDF ground incursion in the Strip was impossible to avoid.
“There is no real option for a cease-fire now. This operation is unavoidable,” the left-wing minister told Army Radio.
“Hamas is not close to a cease-fire in terms of its conditions,” she added. “Its [Hamas’s] conditions are not conditions that are accepted – not by us, not by the Egyptians, not by the Americans, not by the Palestinian Authority and I’m certain that Israel will not agree.”
At the same time as it tracks down the tunnel systems, the IDF is still on a search-and-destroy mission for Hamas’ rocket batteries. Josh Rogin reported yesterday that the UN made that a little more difficult last week:
When 20 rockets were discovered last week in a U.N.-funded school in Gaza, the United Nations Relief and Works Agency for Palestine Refugees was quick to condemn the storage of weapons of war in a building meant to educate children.
But rather than turn them over to a third party, or arrange for their disposal, the agency, known as UNRWA, handed them over to the local police force, which was established by Hamas, and is believed to be under the militant group’s control. In other words, the supposedly neutral agency may have given weapons to one of the combatants in a conflict that has claimed more than 360 lives in the past two weeks.
“We are examining what happened with these rockets. If UNRWA did pass it to Hamas it strongly harms [UNRWA’s] credibility and impartiality,” an Israeli official told The Daily Beast.
UNRWA spokesman Chris Gunness told The Daily Beast on Sunday that after finding the rockets on July 17 in a vacant UNRWA school in Gaza, the organization contacted the local police bomb squad, which came and took the rockets away. Gunness said he didn’t see an issue with the handover, because the local authorities who took control of the rockets reported to the Palestinian government in Ramallah, not to Hamas, which heads the government and runs the police force in Gaza.
“According to longstanding UN practice in UN humanitarian operations worldwide, incidents involving unexploded ordnance that could endanger beneficiaries and staff are referred to the local authorities,” Gunness told The Daily Beast in a statement. “Local authorities fall under the government of national consensus in Ramallah. They pledged to pass a message to all parties not to violate UNRWA neutrality.”
Be sure to read it all. Ramallah’s writ hasn’t run in Gaza for years, thanks to the Hamas takeover that occurred shortly after the Israeli withdrawal under Ariel Sharon. Furthermore, the UN had other options, albeit necessarily limited, short of handing over the missiles back to Hamas-linked police forces. If the UN wants to be seen as an honest broker, it might want to refrain from rearming one of the combatants, especially after having its facilities exploited and staff put in danger by that very organization.