Egypt’s Morsi emerges as winner of Gaza conflict

22 Nov

Israel’s prime minister Binyamin Netanyahu (left) and defence minister Ehud Barak at a media conference about the ceasefire with Hamas held in Jerusalem, 21 November 2012. Do they look happy to you?


by Ian Black, Middle East editor

The Guardian

21 November 2012

article abridged & re-edited

It is the way of all negotiations, particularly ones conducted under intense pressure and when the stakes are so high, that each party seeks to put a positive spin when the deal has been done.

So it was on Wednesday, in Gaza, Jerusalem and Cairo, as the protagonists explained what had been achieved after eight days of bloodshed, some 145 dead and fears around the world of the possible eruption of a wider Middle East war.

Hamas, the Islamist movement that rules Gaza, was upbeat, claiming that all its demands had been met.

Israeli leaders sounded an equally triumphant note, insisting – though less convincingly – that Operation Pillar of Defence had reached its goals. Ehud Barak, Israel‘s defence minister, said that Hamas had suffered “serious blows”.

Khaled Mashaal, the Hamas leader, said that Israel had suffered a “great defeat”.

The key details of the agreement are sketchy but significant. There’s a promised end to all Israeli assassinations and incursions into Gaza – a reminder that this latest round of bloodshed began with the “targeted killing” of Hamas military leader Ahmed al-Jaabari last Wednesday.

All Palestinian factions will in turn stop cross-border attacks into Israel. Hamas will thus be required to impose its will on more radical groups such as Islamic Jihad, a return to the old arrangement – which raises the question of how much has been achieved in the past week.

Written pledges of that kind may be worth something – but they are very easily broken.

More important is the clause about opening border crossings and “facilitating” the movement of people and goods in and out of the Gaza.

Crucially, no details appear to have been agreed on how and where this is to be implemented, though the matter is to be “dealt with” 24 hours after the start of the truce. There is talk of the creation of a new “liaison mechanism”. It’s a safe bet that it is unlikely to work smoothly for very long.

Strikingly absent from the agreement is any sign that Egypt has pledged to do anything to control the flow of weapons via the network of tunnels into Gaza. Israel has been insisting that it wants action from Egypt and the wider international community to curb arms smuggling. Failure to achieve that will attract criticism in Israel.

Nothing positive can be said about longer-term prospects for repairing the bitter divisions between Hamas and the Palestine Liberation Organisation, though US secretary of state Hillary Clinton tried hard to advertise the relevance of Mahmoud Abbas when she met the Palestinian president in Ramallah.

Nor, with Israeli elections due in January, is there much chance of fundamental changes in Israeli policy on building settlements in the West Bank and East Jerusalem.

It is no surprise Hamas claimed victory for the “resistance”. Its deployment of longer-range rockets that managed to hit Tel Aviv and elsewhere in Israel’s densely populated heartland showed that it has acquired a short-lived strategic advantage, though it was not enough to tip the overall strategic balance away from the fourth most powerful army in the world – and it came at a terrible cost to its own people.

But signing a truce with Israel – albeit via a third party – is an indication of the enhanced status of Hamas. It remains in power. But if the status quo does not change, its reputation will suffer.

The biggest winner from this hard-fought agreement is Mohamed Morsi, Egypt’s new president. The Islamist leader has deftly juggled sympathy for Hamas with Egypt’s strategic national interests and helped to produce a breakthrough that, for the moment, can only enhance his role as a key regional player – and underline the difference between him and overthrown dictator Hosni Mubarak.

Lavish praise from the US and even Israel was a mark of what looks like being one of the most substantial changes of the Arab Spring.

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