The Turkish Option

The involvement of Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan in pushing a cease-fire indicates primarily the deep-seated differences between the Syria-Hamas-Iran axis and the Egypt-Saudi Arabia-Palestinian Authority axis. These two axes that now need an external mediator still cannot agree on Hamas' status.

Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak, who earlier this week outlined his plan, is willing to open the Rafah crossing on the condition there is a cease-fire and the crossing is operated by the PA with European observers, according to a 2005 agreement. Mubarak thus seeks to shrink Hamas down to a Palestinian faction that must first make peace with Fatah and the PA.

Saudi Arabia and Egypt seek to prevent Hamas not only setting the cease-fire terms, but gaining the status of a sovereign authority, an almost-government, undermining Mahmoud Abbas' authority and becoming an equal to Israel or any other partner in the cease-fire. Egypt is concerned that a separate cease-fire with Hamas, under Arab and international pressure, could be considered recognition of Gaza's separation from the West Bank, turning the Strip into a Syrian-Iranian satellite on Egypt's border.

In contrast, Syria with Iranian support sees Turkish brokering as a chance to achieve full partnership in the crisis management, and later, as a veto-holder over the rest of the Israel-Palestinian negotiations. So Erdogan's toughest job is to find a common denominator that will satisfy the rival axes and allow an Arab consensus regarding Hamas and Israel. Turkish sources say Erdogan has no plan or organized initiative, and he intends at this stage to hear both sides and locate points of agreement.

Hamas is opposed for the moment to the Egyptian plan that delegitimizes it as a governmental authority, and demands total control of the crossings, a cease-fire contingent on Israel stopping all "acts of aggression" and opening the crossings between Israel and Gaza.

Hamas can already chalk up a few achievements in this conflict. It didn't seek the cease-fire - Egypt, the Arab League, the Palestinian Authority and France are trying to convince it and Israel to accept one. Thus Hamas moves itself and Gaza from a local conflict between Israel and the organization into the international and inter-Arab arenas. Hamas, which has conquered Arab public opinion, has also won the status of a legitimate and critical partner in the dialogue in which the legitimacy of the Israel's attack is crumbling after its rejection of the humanitarian cease-fire.