By Barry Rubin

Most of the time, newspapers at least purport to report. Sometimes, however, the wire services give us timelines, backgrounders, and in this case questions and answers which gives a good chance to test their thinking. Here is the January 18, “Questions and answers on Gaza’s next steps” by Sally Buzbee of AP in Cairo. It is entitled, “The hard part is still to come.”

Let’s go through all of its points and evaluate them. My notes have a hyphen before them. There will be a small quiz at the end so be sure to finish the article!

Almost every significant issue between Hamas and Israel remains unresolved despite a unilateral cease-fire by Israel that went into effect before dawn Sunday in Gaza, and Hamas’ later announcement that it would halt fighting for one week.

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–Fair enough. Let’s see, however, how many rockets, mortars, and ambushes Hamas does in that week and to what extent they will be reported.

Questions and answers remain about what must be resolved to prevent violence from breaking out anew in the troubled territory.

–”troubled territory” is a nice alliterative phrase for avoiding any value judgments.

Q: Hamas says it will hold its fire for one week. What happens after that?
A: World leaders are scrambling to put together a longer-term deal to keep the peace after that one week. The key issues are how to address Israel’s main demand that Hamas not shoot rockets at southern Israel, and Hamas’ key requirement that Israel and Egypt allow Gaza’s borders to reopen.

To meet Israel’s demand, mediators must figure out how to stop weapons smuggling into Gaza from Egypt, and thus prevent Hamas from gaining access to rockets.

To keep Hamas from resuming rocket attacks, the mediators also must devise a way to monitor the crossings into Gaza acceptable to all sides, so they can reopen and ease Gaza’s humanitarian crisis.

Both issues have stymied negotiators for more than a year, however, and there is no guarantee of lasting solutions now.

Even the smuggling and border issues are just a prelude to the underlying conflict over who controls Gaza , Palestinian moderates or Palestinian militants , and the even trickier long-term puzzle of how to renew broader Mideast peace efforts.

–The issue, of course, isn’t just rockets but also mortars and cross-border attacks. Even in a short piece that should be mentioned.

It is interesting to note that in order to stop Hamas from shooting rockets, Hamas must be prevented from gaining access to rockets. That is accurate but there is an unspoken assumption here: it is impossible to negotiate peace with Hamas because if Hamas can attack Israel it will do so. That is due to its extremist ideology which rejects Israel’s existence and is indifferent to civilian casualties on either side. It would be nice to have that point spelled out.

But here’s a problem: how can mediators “devise a way to monitor the crossings into Gaza acceptable to all sides,” when one side only wants a way devised that doesn’t work!
Also note that the opening of borders is equated to humanitarian considerations. That isn’t true. There is a category known in Israel as “sanctions” in which Israel can decide what is a military-use item that cannot be allowed in. To avoid mentioning this is slightly prejudicial—all or nothing—but mainly a lack of the journalist’s sophistication.

Also, of course, it assumes there is a humanitarian crisis which is a subject under debate.
The last point—who controls Gaza; Mideast peace—is good but leaves out the fact that Gaza is one battle in the much wider war between Islamists and Arab nationalists that is going on everywhere in the region.

Q: What are ideas to stop weapons smuggling?

A: International mediators are trying to figure a scheme and incentives to beef up Egypt’s patrolling of the border into Gaza, and to put international monitors at the scene.


The United States and Israel signed a deal Friday in Washington that calls for expanded cooperation to prevent Hamas from rearming through Egypt. But that deal lacks specifics, merely promising U.S. expert assistance and equipment and monitors of some sort.


European countries and Turkey seem willing to help with monitors. But as always, details are key: Still unresolved are where those monitors would patrol , either in Gaza, which Hamas does not want or in Egypt, which Egypt does not want. Reaching agreement on that will be tough.

–Good point but note what isn’t mentioned here: the incredibly bad European record on past such monitoring and the vicious attacks by Turkey’s leaders on Israel (and also antisemitic in tone) which makes that country less than an ideal candidate for monitoring.

It’s also unclear who would oversee or command the monitors , a key issue if future disputes arise.

Q: Haven’t there been past efforts to stop smuggling?
A: Yes, and they largely failed.

–Tell us more.

The U.S. allocated $23 million last year to help train Egypt officials and provide high-tech equipment to stop smuggling. The money made barely a dent, with smuggling going strong before Israel began its offensive on Gaza on Dec. 27, partly because of Egypt’s inability to rein in corruption and alleviate poverty in the Sinai peninsula.

–Well, this is a little coy. In other words, Egyptian officials helped smuggling. This also doesn’t mention that part of this was ideological support for Hamas on their part. Again, no mention of how EU pretend-monitoring turned into a joke.

Egypt rattled diplomats this weekend when its foreign minister asserted the country was not bound by the new U.S.-Israeli deal. But many saw his words as just for domestic political consumption and say Egypt does have a strong, new interest in stopping the smuggling.

–Well, of course no US-Israeli deal binds Egypt. No country is bound by a deal in which it didn’t participate. Quite proper for Egypt to say that and anyone who understands diplomacy should understand that point.

Egypt, however, wants permission to put more Egyptian troops at the border as part of any stepped-up effort , an idea that Israel, in turn, says it can’t abide.

–This is simply false. Israel openly hinted it was ready for such a deal.

There is one significant change this time: The United States as part of the Israeli deal also agreed to work with NATO partners to stop arms smuggling into Gaza from Syria and Iran, presumably at sea before the weapons arrive in Egypt. It’s unclear if that will prove more effective, but it is a new tack.

–Egypt has since said it would not let foreign naval vessels operate in its waters.

Q: On the border crossings, who is most likely to run them and monitor them, if they reopen?

A: Almost all sides agree that some monitors are needed at Gaza’s border crossings before they can reopen to ensure no smuggling or militant entry. European Union monitors helped with this task in the past.

–Well, not exactly “helped.” They stood there and watched the imports pass in front of them but never intervened, never found any contraband, in fact never did anything at all.

But Hamas insists that because it won Palestinian elections in 2006, it must have a role governing Gaza and thus should have a role monitoring the crossings. Hamas’ rival, the more moderate Palestinian president Mahmoud Abbas, has just as bitterly fought such a Hamas role.

–The violent coup in which Fatah people were murdered or thrown out isn’t mentioned. Sigh. Why is it that you know in advance that almost every such error will be in the favor of giving a better image to Israel’s enemies or try to make Israel look bad?

The Israeli offensive did not end Hamas’ political control of Gaza, however.
That is one reason why moderate Arab countries like Saudi Arabia say no progress can be made without reconciliation between the two Palestinian factions. Yet Israel and the United States, which call Hamas a terrorist group, have grave concerns about Hamas ever having any recognized governing role in Gaza, or at the crossings.

–This is crazy! There is no mention of the fact that the Arab states took no action on the war and that Egypt, Jordan, and Saudi Arabia in particular wanted Hamas to lose. This makes it sound like the Saudis are pro-Hamas, a total reversal of reality. Of course, the Saudis would be happy with reconciliation but only if Hamas was subordinated to Fatah and the Palestinian Authority!

That makes compromise, at least so far, very difficult.

–Well it seems even harder if you mis-explain many of the key issues

Q: What about Israel’s army in Gaza? Will it stay or leave?

A: Hamas is saying that Israel’s army must leave during the one-week cease-fire, or fighting might resume again.

–Um, seems to have missed Israel’s position that it was withdrawing completely. That’s amateurish.

Israel’s prime minister also says Israel does not want to reoccupy Gaza long-term, and its troops are targets for violence while in Gaza. It began withdrawing troops on Sunday, shortly after Hamas announced the one-week cease-fire.

Yet if Israel pulls out entirely without an anti-weapons smuggling deal, Hamas could merely begin firing rockets again , calling into question the whole objective of the costly Israeli military offensive.

That is why many world leaders Sunday called the cease-fire extremely fragile.

–Sure but if they fire rockets aren’t they violating world community opinion? Being aggressive? Adding more casualties? The article gives the right background but certainly makes it seem like a tea party.

Q: How does the United States play into this as it prepares to inaugurate a new president Tuesday?

A: President-elect Barack Obama has said his team of advisers will dive into Mideast peace issues on day one. Obama also, of course, has a devastating economic crisis and wars in Iraq and Afghanistan to worry about.
Yet some in the Mideast hope the Gaza crisis, bad as it remains, gives Obama’s team an avenue to restart broader Mideast peace efforts , since crisis has sometimes pushed Mideast players toward negotiations.

Many see the Gaza crisis as a proxy war between Iran, which supports Hamas, and more-moderate Arabs who want accommodation with Israel. Obama, who has pledged to negotiate hard with Iran, might bring a fresh approach.

It’s unclear how Israel would react to that, in part because it faces elections determining its own future course in just over three weeks.

— In the next to last paragraph Iran is finally mentioned (though they never get to Hizballah or Syria, do they? But note how the matter—which is after all the most important issue in the contemporary Middle East–is dropped after one sentence.
And here’s the quiz:

1. How does the next to last paragraph totally sabotage any understanding of the region and totally misinform readers?

2. What factor goes completely unmentioned in the article albeit it is the other centerpiece of the issue.

3. What recent precedent is not mentioned at all?


1. The paragraph implies that by negotiating (albeit hard) with Iran, the Obama administration might solve this proxy war. The problem is that Iran’s ambitions and extremism are unlikely to be resolved whatever the new U.S. government does. But it makes a battle that has cost tens of thousands of lives, threatens the whole world, brought on September 11, will soon bring Iran nuclear weapons, and so on is some minor misunderstanding.

2. No mention of Islamism as an extremist ideology, which includes Hamas’s and Iran’s clearly stated intention to wipe Israel off the face of the earth through genocide. A minor question?

3. In 2006 the UN promised Israel it would stop arms’ smuggling to Hizballah in Lebanon. Obviously, the UN has not interdicted a single weapon. It also promised to keep Hizballah from returning to southern Lebanon. Again, a grade of zero for the world. Might Israel have some justifiable doubts in the promises of such people?

Sort of like an article on Nazi Germany or the Stalinist USSR which omitted their radical ideology, aggressive ambitions, and dictatorial system. So why shouldn’t we believe that solution to their threat is merely a matter of technical means?

Barry Rubin is director of the Global Research in International Affairs (GLORIA) Center and editor of the Middle East Review of International Affairs (MERIA) Journal. His latest books are The Israel-Arab Reader (seventh edition), with Walter Laqueur (Viking-Penguin); the paperback edition of The Truth About Syria (Palgrave-Macmillan); A Chronological History of Terrorism, with Judy Colp Rubin, (Sharpe); and The Long War for Freedom: The Arab Struggle for Democracy in the Middle East (Wiley). To subscribe to Gloria Center publications for free, write [email protected].