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Barack Obama at a press conference during the U.S.-Africa Leaders Summit in Washington on Aug. 6
Barack Obama at a press conference during the U.S.-Africa Leaders Summit in Washington on Aug. 6
Gilles Paris

-Analysis-

WASHINGTON — It was almost as a spectator earlier this week that the United States welcomed Egypt's announcement of a 72-hour ceasefire in Gaza between the Israeli army and Hamas, which has since ended.

The clearest sign yet of how Washington has begun to lose control over events came Aug. 1 when U.S. President Barack Obama called efforts to achieve a truce "very hard," even as the Palestinian civilian deaths mounted daily.

The same day, the White House and the U.S. Department of State strongly criticized Hamas for breaking the first 72-hour ceasefire attempt, calling the violation "barbaric."

Two days later, after similar cases, the Israeli army bombing of a United Nations school spurred almost the same reaction from U.S. State Department spokesperson Jennifer Psaki, who characterized it as "outrageous."

Israel's most powerful ally seems to have been reduced to helplessness despite so many expressions of indignation.

Washington, meanwhile, continues to support Israel militarily. Britain and Spain have instead respectively announced plans to revise and freeze arms contracts with Israel — even though they are much less significant than the military cooperation between the U.S. and Israel.

On the contrary, before going into August recess the U.S. Congress granted the Israeli anti-missile Iron Dome program a $225 million extension. The program had already benefited this year from $235 million in aid from Washington, where there is near-unanimous support for Israel.

During what was apparently an undiplomatic telephone conversation with U.S. Ambassador to Israel Dan Shapiro Aug. 2, Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu resolutely called on Washington to leave his hands untied concerning Hamas. On Aug. 4, Netanyahu clarified that despite the ceasefire announcement, "the campaign in Gaza is continuing and will only end when quiet and security is established for the citizens of Israel for a prolonged period."

Last month, there had also been harsh criticism in Israel towards U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry, deemed guilty of wanting to forge a ceasefire favorable towards Hamas.

Open conflict

Kerry is one of the few senior U.S. officials ever to visit Gaza, where he traveled in May 2009 without meeting Hamas officials. At the time, he headed the Senate Foreign Relations Committee and had already been the subject of fierce attacks, including some leveled by ministers of Netanyahu’s government, for his eager attempts to revive peace talks between Israel and Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas.

To the great displeasure of the Israelis, Washington then said it was ready to cooperate with the unity government between Abbas' Fatah and Hamas.

Obama and Netanyahu came to power almost at the same time — January 2009 for the U.S. president, March of the same year for the Israeli prime minister — but they never managed to create a trusting relationship — the way George W. Bush did with Ariel Sharon and Ehud Olmert.

Even though Bush was the one to put forward the possibility of a Palestinian state for the first time in 2002, the tension between Netanyahu and Bush's successor was palpable soon after Obama was elected. To counter the White House's opposition to expanding Jewish settlements in the West Bank, for example, Netanyahu turned to Congress for allies.

After Obama failed in creating a Palestinian state in 2011, which he imprudently announced at the United Nations the year before, Obama distanced himself from Israel and the West Bank. This was obvious during a 2013 visit after his reelection, an almost pro forma event devoid of any diplomatic initiative — when the helplessness seen during this most recent war in Gaza was already apparent.

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