Frantic diplomatic efforts are ongoing in Cairo and all the major Palestinian players are involved, from Hamas, Khaled Meshaal and Moussa Abu-Marzook; from Islamic Jihad, Ramadan Shalah; and from Fatah, Nabil Shaath. Israel’s Channel Two television staion has announced that an Israeli envoy is also heading to Cairo. That is in addition to the big three leaders of Qatar, Turkey and Egypt.
Does that mean a ceasefire is near? That is what both Morsy and Erdogan want us to believe, though I would interpret their optimism as a message for a domestic audience and not necessarily an indication of any progress.
Al-Qassam military brigades (the military wing of Hamas) have released a video. The defiant, loud rhetoric was clearly aimed at the wider Arab public to garner support. Their “surprise” in the video turned out to be the unveiling of an anti aircraft surface-to-air shoulder mounted missile. Nothing hugely surprising. There are also reports that Palestinian fighters fire most of their rockets by remote control, and that rockets are hidden in trenches camouflaged by trees.
As for Israel, it seems that it has designed a step-by-step plan, yet the end point is unclear. It is also unclear whether Netanyahu is really willing to go to war or if he is just bluffing. Though his support inside Israel seems to be solid, many Arabs do not take him seriously after his previous empty threats against Iran.
I guess the answer depends on what deal he could clinch from the three mediators, Turkey, Qatar, and Egypt. He has to remember that any deal would not be bad for Hamas, but not necessarily good for him. Hamas, in the current dynamics, have nothing to lose but plenty to gain.
Egypt needs to secure a deal with Turkey and Qatar. If the financial side of things is crucial to support Gaza in the future, security arrangements are paramount for any deal to survive long-term. The logistics of a permanently open border and the volatile situation in Sinai are part of the equation too. I also suspect very delicate negotiations with other Palestinian factions, especially Islamic Jihad. Ramadan Shalah is a very important player with a pivotal role that can shape the outcome of the current crisis.
Many analysts claim that Hamas is desperate and has lost most of its missile capabilities. I think we should be careful before we reach such a conclusion. Four years of smuggling won’t be depleted easily.
It seems to me – though I could be wrong – that Israel is not duly bothered by Hamas’s capabilities, but seeks a long term deal – not a truce or a lull; a concrete agreement. Netanyahu seems to be willing to give Hamas a favourable strategic position against Fatah in return for a guaranteed end to rockets and the control of smaller groups.
Anyway, I think we are heading for another day of negotiations and airstrikes. May God be with the innocent civilians who are awaiting the results of the political haggling, and how their leaders roll the dice.
(The writer is a columnist at Daily News Egypt, where this article was published on Nov. 19, 2012)