Hillary Clinton pushes stalled cease-fire talks.

The cease-fire agreement was supposed to go into force in Gaza in the early morning hours of Wednesday, as announced earlier by Egyptian president Mohamed Morsi, whose representatives are playing a mediatory role in negotiations between Israel and Hamas, the Palestinian organization that controls the Gaza sector. But it didn’t happen. Instead of the expected lull, shells and bombs thundered practically the whole night in Gaza. Rockets flew in the direction of Israeli population centers.

During operation “Pillar of Cloud,” which has already lasted a week, more than 130 Palestinians died – half of them civilians – as well as five Israelis, including one soldier.

This is the second extensive military operation in the Gaza sector. In Jan. 2009, during the course of operation “Cast Lead,” the Israeli army undertook a ground invasion of Gaza, in addition to bombings. At that time 1,300 Palestinians and 13 Israeli soldiers died.

Large-scale Israeli forces have assembled on the borders of the zone, but an actual invasion thus far remains only a threat. Tel Aviv understood that “Cast Lead” didn’t solve either military or political problems. In addition regional political changes are an even more serious reason for Netanyahu’s caution. The Arab Spring has politicized the Middle-East population, bringing to power regimes which pay attention to the mood on the street. This is first and foremost the case in Egypt, where Hosni Mubarak’s regime, so anemic on the Middle East question, ceded its place to moderate Islamists led by President Morsi. Tunisia, Qatar and Turkey – as well as Egypt – now show active support towards Hamas. But it is Egypt that is playing the most active role in efforts to end Israel’s military action.

It is well known that a cease-fire agreement was nearly reached in Cairo, but as the talks progressed disagreements over long-term measures sharpened. While Hamas insists on the removal of the blockade, from which the Gaza population is suffering, Israel stresses measures to preserve the blockade in order to prevent the Palestinians from importing rockets and other weapons. The question is on the reconstitution of the buffer zone between the Gaza Strip and Egypt, which Egyptian security forces – and possibly the UN – would provide.

At that stage U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, who had arrived in the region, joined the negotiating process. She had already met with Netanyahu and Palestinian National Authority (PNA) Chief Mahmoud Abbas, before arriving in Cairo. In that regard, one should note that Washington tries to operate within the framework of a narrow circle, virtually removing from problem-solving efforts the UN and the Quartet of Middle-East Peacemakers, which consists of – in addition to the U.S. – Russia, the E.U. and the U.N. As a result of the position taken by American diplomacy, the draft statement on crisis settlement proposed by Morocco was not adopted in the Security Council. U.S. Ambassador to the U.N. Susan Rice called it unbalanced – not favorable to Israel. Moscow’s motion calling for a meeting of the Quartet did not gain support.

The selected framework of discussions creates conditions for pressure on Egypt and, through Egypt, on Hamas. Although this may lead to a cease-fire, it will not remove the obstacles on the path to a long-term settlement.

Russian diplomacy could bring about a settlement by way of increasing the role of available international structures, first and foremost the U.N. Security Council and the Quartet of Peacemakers. In addition, it is necessary to get the PNA, which has been pushed aside, involved in the negotiations. The PNA is the legal representative of the entire Palestinian nation and could play an important role in crisis settlement. After all, that settlement is just a part of the process which should result in a comprehensive resolution of the entire Middle East conflict.