Have the seeds of an Israel-Hamas truce already been planted in
Egypt? A flurry of speculation this week hinted that Cairo is making
headway parlaying a recent calm in fighting into a more robust
Egypt is currently the only country talking to both the Jewish
state and the Islamic militant rulers of Gaza about the conflict. Of
course, the prospect of more turmoil at its doorstep gives the
largest Arab country a new sense of urgency to pursue a cease-fire.
At the same time, the explosive trajectory of last month's
escalation - Israel's army killed more than 100 Gazans in just five
days while militants extended rocket fire to include a major Israeli
city - is strengthening sympathy in the Arab world for anti-Western
groups like Hamas, and its patrons in Syria and Iran.
"Iran is playing with many cards as it tries to mobilize the Arab
world behind it - its support for [Muslim claims to] Jerusalem ...
and for its relationship with Hamas and Islamic Jihad in Gaza," says
Nabil Abdel Fattah deputy director of the Al Ahram Center for
Political and Strategic Studies in Cairo.
Meanwhile, Egypt is trying to limit Iran's influence, he says.
"These negotiations are important for Egyptian national security and
Egypt's commitment vis-a-vis the Arab world and the Palestinian
But analysts and officials caution that Egypt not only has a poor
track record brokering a cease-fire among Palestinian factions, it
also has little leverage with which to cajole the sworn enemies into
"Egypt is an important player, but I don't perceive it as a
decisive force that can bring a durable cease-fire between Hamas and
Israel," says Basem Ezbidi, a political scientist at Bir Zeit
University in the West Bank. "Egypt hasn't even been able to bring
peace among the Palestinians, between Hamas and Fatah. How can Egypt
bring peace between Israel and Hamas?"
Indeed, finding a solution requires unraveling a Gordian knot of
conflicting interests between Israel, Egypt, and the rival
Palestinian governments - Hamas in Gaza and the Western-backed
Palestinian Authority in Ramallah.
And yet, the breach of the Rafah border by Gazans in January
drove home the national security threat to Egypt of continuing
instability in the coastal strip. "That caused a sea change. They
can't afford to have another population explosion into their
territory," says Nicholas Pelham, a senior analyst at the
International Crisis Group in Jerusalem. "Egypt now has a direct
national security stake in a cease-fire in Gaza."
A long-term solution, says Mr. Pelham, needs to give Israelis
relief from rocket attacks, Egypt stability on its border, Hamas
some international recognition of its political power, and the
Palestinian Authority control of Gaza.
Saeb Erekat, the chief Palestinian negotiator, said Wednesday
that there was a possibility of reaching a "mutual tahdiyeh" - an
Arabic term for "calming" - with Israel. …