The New York Times seems to confirm my initial take on Egypt’s role in brokering a potential peace in Gaza is what I thought it was. Here is an even more complete description of the new Egyptian government trying to do two things at once – be a big public relations booster for Hamas while acting to bring to an end, at least temporarily, the war they started.
That’s not an easy task. It involves considerable flexibility of rhetoric, as all of this propagandising by the Egyptians about the Gaza Palestinian “cause” would normally lead the Gazans to think that the Egyptians are going to take up arms to fight the Israelis for them, and, of course, the Egyptians don’t have the slightest intention of doing that.
The hyperbolic pro-Hamas rhetoric from the Egyptian government is for domestic political consumption in Egypt – a sop to the Salafists who accounted for about a quarter of the vote in last year’s elections.
But it’s clear the Israelis would not trust Egypt as a mediator if they didn’t think that it wasn’t just that – rhetoric. Indeed, what else would encourage the Israelis, normally so suspicious that the world is out to get it (and with reason!), to accept as a mediator a country that is openly peddling such hardcore propaganda for their adversaries in Gaza?
The only two possible reasons that could be happening – and I do intend to keep harping on this until people get it – is that Israel is either serious enough about peace to trust a mediator biased in favour of the Gazans, or Egypt is serious enough about really mediating this conflict that we cannot accept at face value the appearance that it is casting its lot in with Hamas. I suspect it’s a little of both of those things.
There is always the possibility that Benjamin Netanyahu and the Likud will snatch a moral defeat from the jaws of victory here. It remains a possibility that Netanyahu will turn this into some kind of campaign ad for his party, which could get him votes, but also would weaken his country. That kind of hot air will fill the sails of Israel’s enemies, who score propaganda victories every time Israel does something even remotely arguably disproportionate.
By contrast, the more Israel can state the simple truth about this fight, namely that it will end when the Gazans stop attacking Israel, the more this could end up being an ugly war which nevertheless proves the reality of Israel’s desire for peace.
When people write the next page in the book of history for the Middle East, it might say “2012: Israel trusts the Egyptians to broker peace in Gaza, Egypt looks past its narrow ethnoreligious point of view and acts in the name of its wider interests…and Hamas stops firing rockets at Israel.” If that’s the way this plays out, it will be Israel and Egypt that will come off the better. Hamas, by contrast, will look like it is still fighting an unending religious war. Which, of course, they are.