Could Egyptian President influence the political-military focus of Hamas? Such indications were seen Thursday, when Hamas Prime Minister Ismail Haniyeh met with Egypt's President Mohamed Morsi.
Following the meeting, Haniyeh declared that the opening hours of the Rafah border crossing between Gaza and Egypt will be extended to 12 hours a day; 1,500 Palestinians will be allowed to cross the border with Egypt adding additional border inspectors to ease the crossing.
in the meeting, Egypt has also agreed to supply Gaza with more fuel for its power station, to increase electricity output supplied by Egypt to Gaza from 22 megawatts to 30 megawatts. In addition, Egypt has agreed to lay a gas pipeline for Gaza's power station and to increase the number of fuel tanks entering Gaza from six to eight per day.
Even so, Morsi's response to Haniyeh's requests was limited, since Egypt is still unwilling to open the Rafah crossing for commodities because of both U.S. pressure and the demand of Egypt's Supreme Military Council that any concession to Hamas will be returned by a change in its policy. The two key demands are that Hamas will distance itself from terrorist cells operating in the Sinai Peninsula (which are damaging Egypt both economically and politically), and to promote Palestinian reconciliation in order to build a unified Palestinian leadership.
It seems that Egyptian claims are not discouraging Hamas. In a meeting held last week, Egyptian weekly Rose al-Yusuf reported that Hamas' Khaled Mashal had presented Muslim Brotherhood leader Muhammad Badia with a plan to end Hamas' armed operations within a year. The details of the plan were not specified; however Egyptian sources believe that the plan represents Hamas' willingness to announce an arms reduction (in exchange for an Israeli assurance to cease its actions against Hamas), disengagement from extreme Salafis operating in Sinai, and a gradual transformation of Hamas to a political movement, exclusive of a military wing.
According to the report, what surprised the Brotherhood's leader was Mashal's request that Egypt would ask the U.S. to pressure Israel to release 220 Hamas prisoners, handing over a list of their names to his host.
Mashal had also offered detailed information regarding the deployment of the Syrian army - information which he said could "determine the outcome of the campaign." Badia promised to contact the U.S. administration using a member of the Brotherhood's global leadership.
The relationship with the new Egyptian leadership, abandoning of the Syrian power-base and cutting off relations with Iran along with the recognition of the hopelessness of an armed resistance against Israel, is compelling Hamas to examine different strategic alternatives.
For example, the fact that the Egyptian president and leaders of the Brotherhood had publicly announced that they are committed to the peace accords with Israel signed at Camp David, has presented Hamas with a dilemma: if Hamas' mother movement recognizes Israel, should Hamas, at least ideologically speaking, be holier than the Pope?
However, the issue is neither ideological nor religious. Hamas will be unable to act against Israel in a way which will put Egypt's government, headed by the Muslim Brotherhood, in a place where it will have to choose between supporting terror and maintaining its stance as a state acting for a secure region (as well as its relations with the West).
Egypt's role may be about to change. Unlike Mubarak who did not hesitate to cooperate in imposing sanctions on Gaza, Morsi will not want to be in a position he is forced to maintain Mubarak's policy regarding Gaza. For this purpose, he needs Hamas to make concession primarily in its armed operations, something which Mashal must have understood.
As opposed to Mubarak, Morsi is taking on a different approach. He does not ask for preconditions and he agrees to some requests. However, he is still holding a few strong bargaining chips, while passing the ball to Hamas' court.
Now, the question is to what extent Haniyeh, Mashal and the rest of Hamas' so called "political" leaders could convince the movement's military wing of the need to change its strategy and pass the role of the political sponsor from Syria to Egypt. A strong argument which can be used by Hamas is that the Brotherhood's rule in Egypt is a chance to neutralize Israel's control over the Rafah crossing, breaking its blockade policy.
However, in order to achieve this goal Hamas would have to pay a political price that would serve Egypt's interests, which will ultimately present Israel with a tough dilemma.
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