After Seven Days of Pillar of Defense, Hamas Is Scoring Diplomatic Points

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Indications from Cairo are that a cease-fire between Israel and Hamas is getting closer. Senior Egyptian officials confirmed to Haaretz that most of the clauses have essentially been agreed upon, and that during a planned meeting between Egyptian intelligence chief Gen. Raafat Shehata and his aide, Mohammed Ibrahim, with the heads of Hamas and Islamic Jihad, Khaled Meshal and Ramadan Shallah, the last details will be ironed out.

From the Israeli side reports that Israel is seeking a cease-fire as soon as possible are also starting to leak out. Perhaps the clearest sign of all that the end of the fighting is near is Hamas’ attempt to “burn awareness” on everyone’s brains by sending a barrage of 16 rockets toward Be’er Sheva Tuesday morning, and then another small volley at the capital of the Negev soon afterward.

It’s still too early to sum up Operation Pillar of Defense, but one can already say with certainty that while Hamas may have suffered military blows during the fighting, it has emerged stronger diplomatically. It is being courted by the heads of all the Arab states and even Israel is seeking to avoid confronting it directly in a ground war.

Hamas has survived the Israeli pounding and despite the initial shock it suffered with the assassination of Ahmed Jabari, it has shown signs of recovery and more importantly from its perspective, of survival. Hamas is the Palestinian organization with which Israel is negotiating, whether by fire or by diplomatic channels, while its great political rival, Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas and his Fatah faction have become irrelevant – as stated outright earlier this week by Strategic Affairs Minister Moshe Ya’alon and Transportation Minister Yisrael Katz. Those two, of course, managed to forget who made Abbas irrelevant and prefer to ignore his critical role in keeping the West Bank quiet.

The only Israeli minister who seemed to maintain Abbas’ relevance was Foreign Minister Avigdor Lieberman. He linked Abbas to Hamas’ military efforts and argued that while the Gaza group was initiating physical terror against the State of Israel, Abbas was conducting diplomatic terror. At a time when Palestinian, Arab, and international public attention is focused in Gaza and seems to have forgotten the UN Security Council petition Abbas is filing in only nine days to get the PA’s status upgraded, Abbas probably should thank Lieberman for keeping the PA president on the world agenda.

Another central point that bears noting is the very significant role being played by the “new Egypt” under Mohammed Morsi and the Muslim Brotherhood in maintaining regional stability. During a press conference on Saturday in Cairo, Israel got one of its biggest shocks of the war, when Morsi actually uttered the word “Israel,” even as he stood next to no less than Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan.

Morsi, despite being a senior Muslim Brotherhood official, has become the key to preserving quiet in the south and especially to restoring the quiet. It turns out that Israel needs the new Egypt just as much as it needed the old Egypt.

Also interesting is the fact that although the Muslim Brotherhood now rules Egypt, relations between Cairo and Gaza have never looked so bad. Hamas has embarrassed Egypt again and again during this latest round of fighting.

It started during the visit of Egyptian Prime Minister Hesham Kandil to Gaza, during which Hamas promised not to fire any rockets, but in fact launched several rockets while he was there. When Kandil came to visit the hospital in Gaza City, Hamas men hastily placed the body of a dead Palestinian child in his hands; not only was the Egyptian prime minister taken aback by the move, he had no idea what to do with himself in that situation. And of course, there’s the fact that the demands being made by Hamas to agree to a cease-fire are not being directed only at Israel, but at Egypt, from which it is demanding that the Rafah crossing be opened to the passage of both people and goods.

After nearly seven days of fighting, Israel and Hamas find themselves at more or less the same point as when Pillar of Defense began. Hamas is still alive and kicking and will presumably continue to smuggle weapons into Gaza. By the next big round of fighting, it will have acquired more rockets that have even longer ranges. On the eve of the Israeli general election, the Netanyahu government just wants Gaza to stay quiet, and will presumably ask for the same thing after the voting.

What stands out is the mutual interest of both sides: Hamas, if it extracts some easing of the blockade, will be able to maintain its control of Gaza unimpeded and strengthen its political position. And the Netanyahu government will argue that “the security situation has never been better.” The Israeli government will continue to ignore Abbas and instead nurture the quiet with Hamas.

And for the umpteenth time, Hamas will have proven to the Palestinian public that the Jews only understand force.

Hamas Leader Khaled Meshal gives a press conference at the Journalist Syndicate building on November 19, 2012 in Cairo.Credit: AFP

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