Robert Pastor is a senior adviser to the Carter Center and a professor at American University who met with exiled Hamas political leader Khaled Meshaal in Damascus on Dec. 14, along with former President Jimmy Carter. Pastor says Meshaal indicated Hamas was willing to go back to the ceasefire if Israel would lift the siege on Gaza. He says he passed along the statement to the Israeli military but he never heard back. Two weeks later, Israel launched its three week assault that left more than 1,300 Palestinians, most of them civilians, at least a third children.
President Obama has pledged “active engagement” for a fragile ceasefire between Israel and Hamas in the Gaza Strip. In his first day in office, Obama called President Hosni Mubarak of Egypt, Prime Minister Ehud Olmert of Israel, King Abdullah of Jordan and President Mahmoud Abbas of the Palestinian Authority. He did not reach out to leaders of Hamas, who rose to power in democratic elections three years ago.
Meanwhile, Obama plans to announce the selection of former Senate majority leader George Mitchell as Middle East envoy. Mitchell is expected to travel to the region almost immediately upon taking the post. Obama will also meet with Secretary of State Hillary Clinton later today.
Israel declared a unilateral ceasefire in Gaza on Saturday, three days before Obama was sworn into office. The twenty-two day assault killed more than 1,300 Palestinians, most of them civilians, at least a third children. More than 5,500 were injured. Hamas also declared its own week-long ceasefire which ends on Sunday. Hamas is demanding an immediate re-opening of Gaza"s border crossings and lifting of an Israeli blockade. This is Hamas spokesperson Fawzi Barhoum.
Israel has refused to fully open border crossings to allow desperately needed aid, goods and construction materials into Gaza. Meanwhile, exiled Hamas political leader Khaled Meshal claimed “unequivocal victory” over Israeli forces in the Gaza Strip.
Robert Pastor is a Senior Adviser on Conflict Resolution at The Carter Center and a Professor of International Relations at American University. Last month he traveled to Syria with President Carter where they met with Khaled Meshaal of Hamas. Robert Pastor served as national security adviser on Latin America and the Caribbean under President Carter from 1977-81.