A Blog by the Editor of The Middle East Journal

Putting Middle Eastern Events in Cultural and Historical Context

Monday, November 19, 2012

Can Morsi Broker a Ceasefire?

Hussein Ibish's latest piece at The Daily Beast, "Talk Like an Egyptian," argues that if President Morsi can pull off an Israel-Hamas ceasefire, or get the credit for one at least, all sides might benefit, not least Morsi himself:
The best solution for almost all concerned would probably be a cease-fire brokered by, or credited to, Egyptian President Mohamed Morsi, which could secure many of the most important aims of the main parties. Both Israel and Hamas have their reasons for wanting to extricate themselves sooner rather than later from the current conflagration. They have both achieved significant results already, but may have overplayed their hands and be facing rapidly diminishing returns ...
Both sides may feel they still have more to accomplish and that the formula for getting out of this mess hasn't yet arisen. But an Egyptian-brokered deal potentially provides something for everybody.
Israeli leaders can claim they restored deterrence, took out key militant leaders, destroyed infrastructure and demonstrated that there is a heavy price for anyone attacking Israel from Gaza. Hamas leaders can claim to have stood up to Israel, shown the Israeli public they can reach Tel Aviv, once again unfurled the banner of armed resistance, and achieved major diplomatic breakthroughs with the recent high level visits to Gaza.
Morsi can achieve the neatest trick of all: he can continue with what are effectively Mubarak-era policies—Egypt serving as a broker of cease-fires and a liaison between Hamas and Israel—while presenting the whole thing as a reassertion of Egypt's regional leadership, and a new foreign policy that stands closer to Hamas (mainly by symbolically dispatching his prime minister to Gaza). So he can create the appearance of popular change without actually changing policies that would aggravate relations with Israel or the United States.
I think this may have to play out a few more days than Ibish seems to, though I also think that the fact that Israel has not launched a ground invasion means that Netanyahu is hesitating, perhaps knowing full well that IDF casualties could hurt him in the elections. (He could prove me wrong at any minute, of course). And I am unimpressed by Morsi's personal diplomatic skills, which have so far been largely undetectable, but he has good ties with Hamas, and the Egyptian professional diplomatic corps and intelligence services know well how to deal with Israelis. Of course if Morsi gets the credit Ibish is dead on about the likely result: business as usual with Israel and the US while he is able to present himself to his Muslim Brotherhood colleagues as the man who saved Hamas and Gaza.

It could be a way out of the situation for both sides, but I fear we aren't quite there yet.

No comments: