Israel's Cease-fire With Hamas: Egypt’s Diplomatic Achievement

While the new deal placed Egypt firmly back on the international stage, it could also allow smaller Gaza groups to attack Israel with impunity.

A photo of Dr. Zvi Bar'el.
Zvi Bar'el
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A photo of Dr. Zvi Bar'el.
Zvi Bar'el

The success of Egyptian mediators, headed by Egyptian President Mohammed Morsi and intelligence chief Raafat Shehata in obtaining the cease-fire affords Egypt a new standing to which Morsi has aspired since his election, in both the international arena and in Arab eyes. “Returning Egypt to the Arab world” was one of the planks in his platform that has been realized, at least in the meantime, by means of a crisis he didn’t wish for and had wanted to prevent even before Operation Pillar of Defense.

However, this achievement proved to Morsi that his ability to resolve crises in the region depends on a close relationship with the United States, and that if Egypt aspires to continue to sponsor the solution of the Palestinian problem it has no way of avoiding stable relations with Israel, and not only at the military level.

Along with the diplomatic achievement, the agreement places a heavy responsibility on Egypt, which has become the go-to agent for managing the cease-fire as well as with dealing with complaints about its violation. It isn’t clear from the agreement what the mechanism will be for dealing with violations, or what the sanctions will be in the case of violations, but Egypt has locked itself into an obligatory system of dialogue with Israel - one which it didn't desire. This is a high political price from the perspective of an Egyptian president, who represents an ideological movement that still sees Israel as an enemy.

On the practical level, Egypt’s close relations with Hamas, which won the status of a responsible government, might force it to abide by the agreement.
Through its control of traffic at Rafah crossing and in its role as economic prop for the Strip, Egypt ostensibly has in its hand a lever of pressures that could keep Hamas calm. However, over time Egypt will find it difficult to continue the Rafah crossing closed and to stand up to pressure from the Egyptian and Arab public that is likely to demand, even more emphatically now, that it open the crossing point in order to enable Gaza’s rehabilitation possible.

However, even if wrestling with Hamas and the Islamic Jihad succeeds, this will not ensure that smaller armed organizations in Gaza and Sinai will adopt the principles of he agreement. Those organizations were not invited to sign the agreement, and they're not mentioned in it. More importantly, Hamas and the Islamic Jihad are not required under the agreement to monitor the actions of those organizations, which have already proven that they are able to impose a violent veto even on agreements Hamas has reached with Israel.

Herein is the weak link that is endangering that is endangering the agreement and is liable to empty it of content. If those organizations decide to continue to act against Israel in a way that will force Israel into a violent response, that escalation could also drag in the larger organizations as well.

In order to preserve the relationship with Egypt, and to involve it as a mediator, Israel will have to make a precise distinction between the Hamas and Islamic Jihad actions from actions by the other organizations, and not assign sweeping blame to Hamas. Here lies the paradox of the agreement. Under it, Hamas, as a government, becomes responsible only for its own actions and it doesn’t commit to acting against independent organizations even though they are acting in territory it controls. Egypt too will be held responsible only for Hamas actions and for blocking the organizations in Sinai, but it has no control over the other organizations, some of which are funded and directed by Iran.

Egyptian President Mohammed Morsi speaking to reporters. Credit: AP

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