The Egyptian-brokered ceasefire will hopefully end the fighting once and for all.
It’s only fitting that it was Egypt which helped broker the deal that ended 50 days of bloody conflict between Hamas and Israel. Cairo simply had what others did not: the ability to sit at one negotiating table with both Hamas and Israel. It also enjoyed a historic affinity with the Palestinian people and their cause, something that other aspirants to a truce, including Turkey, Qatar and even the US, did not have. And there was the fact that because Egypt had in the past waged war and made peace with Israel, it was able to use this experience to guide Hamas through a somewhat similar transition.
According to this long-term ceasefire which unlike past truces which failed has no expiry date, Israel is to ease its blockade of Gaza to allow in aid and building materials. There was no deal on the opening of a Gaza sea terminal or an airport as was demanded by Gazans. Indirect talks on these more contentious issues, including Israel’s call for militant groups in Gaza to disarm, will begin in Cairo within a month.
As expected, both sides claimed victory but the truth is that there is no winner if negotiations after the truce do not address the root causes of the crisis. If not, the ceasefire will do little more than set the stage for the next war.
The cause of the crisis is without doubt the Israeli government, headed by Benjamin Netanyahu. The prime minister has kept those who live in Gaza like prisoners behind walls and fences, and an Israeli economic blockade has forced Palestinians into poverty.
Israel’s assault on Gaza was also not triggered by Hamas’ rockets directed at Israel but by Israel’s determination to bring down the Palestinian unity government of Fatah and Hamas that was formed in early June, even though that government was committed to honouring all of the conditions imposed by the international community for recognition of its legitimacy. The scale of death wrought by Israel’s armed forces which rampaged throughout Gaza by air and land in a campaign of collective punishment that put Gaza’s infrastructure back to the Stone Age, appears to have been aimed not just at lessening the actual threat from Hamas but also at punishing Gazans for elevating Hamas to power in the first place.
Under such circumstances, the question now is whether this latest ceasefire will actually stick when others have not. It might, but only if the life of Gazans improve markedly. After the wars in Gaza of 2010 and 2012 what did Israel, the occupying power, do to improve the lives of the people it fought against so ruthlessly? Absolutely nothing. Israel failed to take advantage of the relative calm of the past to improve, rather than worsen, the economic and political plight of the Palestinians in the Gaza Strip. After the lull that will follow this most recent battle, going by its track record, Israel will fail again.
The depressing reality is that this Gaza conflict has reached a familiar ending: so many people killed, mainly on the Palestinian side, but so little change. Netanyahu could have in the past offered Palestinians an alternative future of free movement, economic development and peace. Instead, he landed crunching blows, crushing and laying waste to the Palestinians in Gaza already mired in economic distress.
At the international level, there may be new attempts to launch UN investigations of Israel’s war crimes or to grant more recognition to a notional state of Palestine, but they are unlikely to have much effect. The Obama administration may try again to launch a peace process despite its abject failure in two previous attempts. That, too, will probably go nowhere.
Hamas was seeking through war what it should have obtained through peace. To change a disastrous status quo forced upon them by Israel, Gazans now have paid an equally tragic heavy price, not only to reach a truce but to reach a life of dignity the day after.
Egypt did not hesitate to help Hamas end this tragedy despite the huge strain in relations between the two sides. Hamas is after all a product of the Muslim Brotherhood, officially labelled a terrorist organisation by Cairo in the wake of last year’s ouster of the Islamist Mohamed Morsi as president. Since then, Egypt has been fighting a low-level insurgency by the Brotherhood in Sinai as well as in major cities.
The situation deteriorated so much that in March of this year, Egypt had to curb movement through its crossing with the Gaza Strip. The decision cut off imports of medicine and aid to the impoverished coastal enclave but it was a security decision that had to be taken. Hamas called the closure a crime against humanity but Egypt had no other recourse but to seal the tunnels that were supplying arms in an open invitation for extremist groups in Sinai to continue striking at Egyptian targets. The crossing had to be closed because Hamas, in collaboration with Morsi, had been inviting all sorts of militant and Jihadist groups and training them in Sinai, kidnapping and killing Egyptian soldiers and smuggling the killers into the Gaza Strip via tunnels and hiding Muslim Brotherhood leaders in Gaza.
Hamas viewed Morsi’s rise to power in Egypt as a triumph that could have helped end Gaza’s economic and political isolation. But Morsi is gone and Hamas should now find in Egyptian President Abdel-Fattah Al-Sisi an even closer ally. Al-Sisi is by profession a soldier in the Egyptian army which fought four wars for the Palestinian cause. He therefore knows better than most the Palestinian plight and will not waiver in continuing the constant and consistent help Egypt has provided the Palestinians through the decades.
Egypt extended its hand to Hamas to help ensure that in this truce, Hamas was able to get the best possible deal so that the blood of over 2,000 Palestinians who died in this colossal battle will not be spilt entirely for naught.
Alaa Abdel-Ghani is an affiliate professor, Faculty of Journalism, American University in Cairo.