Escaping To The Past

22 Nov

The American secretary of state, Hillary Clinton, announcing a truce between Hamas and Israel might have praised Egyptian president, Muhammed Morsi but Israel’s prime minister, Benjamin Netanyahu, was proving how hollow he wants that truce to be.

But even as the truce was being announced, Netanyahu was warning more “forceful” action might be required if the ceasefire failed – a reference to a threatened ground invasion of Gaza that was postponed by Israel after pressure from the US president, Barack Obama.

Speaking at a press conference, Netanyahu said the operation had destroyed “thousands of missiles” as well as Hamas installations. Israel could not “sit with their arms folded” under attack, he said.

He also repeated his veiled threat of a wider army operation if the ceasefire failed: “I know there are citizens expecting a more severe military action, and perhaps we shall need to do so.”

Netanyahu’s statement came as an instant poll by Israel’s Channel 2 television revealed that 70% of Israelis opposed the ceasefire deal.

Meshaal, speaking in Cairo, welcomed the ceasefire and said “the Israeli conspiracy” that had sought election propaganda and to “test Egypt” had “failed in its objectives”.

After the deal was struck Obama called Netanyahu to commend him for agreeing to the Egyptian proposal and told him he would seek more money for the Iron Dome defence system that has protected Israel from rocket attacks.

Secretary Clinton perhaps should have just patted Morsi on the back, and wished him well. This is the bad kind of truce, when both sides take a rest before pummeling each other again. Mohammed Morsi might have scored some diplomatic points, but he can’t control Hamas, or even his own party base in Egypt.

Even before he came to power, Morsi was aware that the moment Israel began flexing its muscles, Egypt could be landing itself in uncharted territory. Calls for him to chart an independent course in any conflict involving Israel, even if it meant flirting with the idea of amassing troops on Israeli border zones, would reign in thick and fast. Now, the Egyptian President is in a deep rut over Israel. He either rides the mounting political demands of his countrymen and imposes his will on the Israelis, or keeps his powder dry and risks his reputation as the guarantor of Muslim freedom in the region.

Morsi’s political quandary doesn’t end there. Elements within the Muslim Brotherhood are marred with division and there is no settled consensus on how the party ought to settle their score with Israel. The historical rift between the Brotherhood’s pan-Islamists and pan-Arab nationalists are yet to be bridged, with the former preferring a hard-line stance against Israeli aggression, and the latter content with leading from behind. And although the President has proved resilient to internal revolt, showing no signs of imploding thus far, old wounds have yet to heal and a proxy contest for control continues.

Morsi’s measured response to the flare up so far may be part of a multi-pronged strategy to foster a pacific international image amidst Egypt’s deteriorating security situation, and one which denies SCAF any window of opportunity to exert itself, which the President can ill afford. But in the process, he could alienate the more gung-ho factions of his party and set himself at loggerheads with his Islamist constituency, however dwindling a segment they may be.

Judging by the mood of protesters in Cairo and Alexandria, the President’s drearily familiar response to the conflict has not garnered sympathy from the Arab street. For everyday Egyptians, Palestine is no peripheral state. An attack on Gaza is an attack on them, which explains why a strong momentum is building for the Egyptian government to send a thunderclap of authority across the border. The popular feeling is that issuing ringing declarations of support for the Palestinians will do little to placate war-hungry Netanyahu and deflect Israel from the conflict it craves.

On the other hand, Israel, according to Yousef Munayyer, Executive Director of The Jerusalem Fund, can use Hamas for electoral gain quite conveniently.

NERMEEN SHAIKH: Yousef Munayyer you’ve made a comparison, as have some others, of the most recent Israeli military strikes on Gaza and what happened four years ago during Operation Cast Lead. And you say that the cause has something to do with the forthcoming elections in Israel. Can you talk about that?

YOUSEF MUNAYYER: Yeah, absolutely. I think when you look at the dynamics of fire over the past several years and you look at when the rockets — when projectiles have been fired from Gaza, they have occurred, the vast majority have occurred, probably over 90%, have happened after Israeli extrajudicial assassinations in the Gaza strip. It is the Israelis can control the escalation here with their ability to inflict high casualties in the Gaza strip.

And so, it is very clear from a point of view of security that the way to solve this problem is through dealing with the parties on the ground. And every time that they have done that, through third parties with the Egyptians, they have been able to largely limit this rocket fire while at the same time continuing to have their way with the people in the Gaza Strip through periodic violations and incursions.

The question here is, why now? You look at the situation now and you look at the fact that this did not have to happen. And the Israelis knew that by attacking in the Gaza Strip and murdering Ahmed Jabari that they would only provoke a significant amount of rockets, so why do it? And I think the only answer is that they are domestic, political calculations here on the part of the Israeli government. We saw the same things par to Cast Lead. We saw the same thing prior to the Israeli operation in Lebanon 2006. There’s a very, very strange but significant correlation between vast military operations and Israeli elections happening shortly thereafter.

The Obama administration would like to present an image where Egypt’s Morsi has taken up the mantle left by Egypt’s deposed leader, Hosni Mubarak, as a viable partner with Israel. Netanyahu has come out of this stronger, and Morsi is reeling, again forced to act like Mubarak. This is not peace, but rather the tactical manipulation of a truce for political and strategic gain.

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