Hamas signals Gaza truce; Israel debates goals

Israeli leaders must have one eye on the US inauguration calendar.

Israel has been at it in Gaza for 18 days now. They have destroyed Hamas government buildings, killed more than 900 people, and forced the militant group's leaders into hiding. But have they triumphed?

One thing is for sure – if there is more that Israel wants to do, the window is quickly closing for them to operate unchecked in Gaza. When Barack Obama becomes president on Jan. 20, and is finally free to speak his mind, Israel will undoubtedly face new pressures.

Peace summit?

Qatar, which has made a name for itself lately as a regional peace broker , wants a summit on Friday. It's inviting all 22 Arab League nations. Syria and Lebanon are on board. Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas is ready, too. But Egypt and Saudi Arabia aren't. They've got their own plans.

On Tuesday, Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak flew to Riyadh to meet with Saudi King Abdullah to brief him on Egyptian efforts to persuade Hamas to accept a cease-fire. UN Secretary-General Ban Ki Moon jumped on a flight Tuesday bound for Cairo.

For the moment, it's unclear how interested Hamas or Israel may be in an internationally brokered cease-fire, as Monitor staffer Ilene Prusher explained in an excellent piece yesterday on Israel’s endgame.

Upcoming Israeli elections

While the Israeli public is behind the war, no one is exactly sure whether the government plans to occupy Gaza or to flat-out destroy Hamas. In an lengthy interview with Der Spiegel today, Foreign Minister Tzipi Livni claimed the goal was never to destroy Hamas. But Ms. Livni is but one of three likely candidates vying for prime minister post in upcoming elections, and thus faces other domestic pressures.

What does Hamas want?

Hamas leader Ismail Haniyeh, who last week compared Israel’s offensive to “genocide” said yesterday in his second TV appearance that Hamas would be willing to work toward a cease-fire.

For a more intimate view of Hamas’s goals, take a one-click trip from your keyboard to Damascus where you can sit in on an interview with Musa Abu Marzook, deputy chairman of Hamas’s political bureau. He outlines Hamas’s demands for a cease-fire:
1) Israeli ‘aggression’ ends
2) Border crossings open, including Rafah
3) Israel withdraws from Gaza
But, no, Hamas will not stop sending rockets into Israel.

Obama's opportunity 

So Obama will likely have a ripe opportunity in the Middle East to live up to the great expectations everyone has for his presidency.

How might Obama “pick up the pieces in Gaza?” Check out this piece by the Monitor’s former Jerusalem bureau chief George Moffett.

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