On Friday, as Benjamin Netanyahu stood before the cameras at the safe room of the air force's Tel Aviv headquarters, he spent a few minutes recounting the conversations he had on the phone with a few world leaders – Barack Obama, Vladimir Putin, Angela Merkel, Stephen Harper, David Cameron and Francois Hollande.
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"I had good talks with all of them," Netanyahu told reporters. A couple of sentences later, Netanyahu announced that "no international pressure" will prevent him from stopping the operation in Gaza. The reporters left the junket confused. If the main thrust of his statement was that he will not cave in to outside pressure, maybe the talks with his international counterparts were not as good as he said they were.
The contradiction in Netanyahu's statement is derived out of the messages relayed to him by world leaders. On the one hand, all of them condemned the rocket fire from Gaza and backed Israel's right to self-defense. On the other, there's a significant difference between rights and exercising them.
All the leaders who talked to Netanyahu urged him not to escalate the operation, thus avoiding further innocent casualties. Even Putin spoke in the same vein, and it was difficult to ignore the irony in the Kremlin's statement that "an end must be put to the violent confrontation in Gaza, which leads to many civilian casualties." Tell that to the Chechens.
The phone calls Netanyahu and Foreign Minister Lieberman received from their counterparts abroad, the joint statement by the 15 members of the UN Security Council and the increasing talks of a cease-fire testify that the countdown for the end of Operation Protective Edge has began. After several days of an almost unlimited international credit for harsh action against Hamas, Israel has started losing that legitimacy over the weekend.
In coming days a barrage of western diplomats and foreign ministers will hit Israel, in attempt to formulate a cease-fire. U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry will probably be there too. If the cabinet will order the Israeli army to launch a ground offensive in Gaza international pressure on Israel will mount even further.
It is uncertain if Netanyahu is distressed by the international efforts. From the outset, he was not too eager for an operation against Gaza. As in many instances before, it seems that now too Netanyahu may even be courting outside pressure to bring about the end of the operation. Though he puts on a tough exterior for the Israeli public, in the cabinet meeting room he will tell ministers that there's no choice, that the world is exerting pressure and that it's more important to focus on the Iranian nuclear program.
The details of the cease-fire are more-or-less set: Calm on both sides for at least a year, reduced restrictions on the Gaza crossings, expanding fishing areas off the Gaza coast, and perhaps some sort of Palestinian Authority presence in the Strip, possibly by manning the Rafah Crossing with Mahmoud Abbas' presidential guard together with EU inspectors.
The problem is that at this stage there's no cease-fire outline on the table and there's no clear and reliable mediator to formulate one. Meanwhile, everyone's talking to everyone: The Egyptians, the Qataris, the Turks, the Americans, Tony Blair and the UN chief. Netanyahu is waiting for an offer, but if Israel wants the cease-fire to include diplomatic achievements and not just six months of calm, it must initiate an effort of its own volition.