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Gaza, the Gordian knot

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Nervana Mahmoud

Nervana Mahmoud

Gaza___ the formula of a quick fix and hope for the best has failed. The simple fact that the recent war in the Gaza strip is the third in six years is enough proof of the futility of one lull after another. The civilians in Gaza cannot handle another dose of a pain remedy that eases the immediate anguish while allowing both sides to claim a fake victory.

Where is Omar Suleiman? Where is Morsi? The quest to find a responsible power to broker a ceasefire is simply futile. Throughout the last six years Hamas and Israel have tried to get away with their mistakes and expected external mediators to bail them out. Now Hamas is fighting for its survival and any compromise can ultimately end its rule of Gaza. Netanyahu, if he fails to restore calm, also fears for his political career. There are no mediators that can forge successful, subsequent deals with irresponsible enemies who rush to fight, while looking for a ceasefire deal. Gaza is a story of two sides that shoot themselves in the foot.

On the one hand, Israel’s disengagement from Gaza in 2005 without a permanent peace deal with the Palestinians was a cynical gamble to offload from its shoulders a huge chunk of the Palestinian population. It clearly did not work. The failure to reach peace has thus yielded irrational, radical resistance movements. Israel now continues to believe that shelling the deprived strip, despite mounting civilian casualties, will deter Hamas. This has not worked either.

On the other hand, Hamas deliberately ignores what is evident in that it cannot be a governing body and a resistance movement in the same time. The Islamist group is paying the price for its ill-fated takeover of Gaza from its rival Fatah in 2007. Even after the 2012 ceasefire deal, and despite having its patron Morsi in power for many months after, and along with a high–profile visit from the Emir of Qatar, Hamas did not build a single shelter in Gaza to protect its citizens.  Hamas fails to appreciate that acting as a conventional army, and firing long-range missiles into the heart of Israel without having defense capabilities, would earn the group a shared responsibility for Israeli retaliation.

Those who look for Egyptian mediation overlook the fact that two previous confrontations have made a lull a predictable outcome, and this narrows the window of palatable compromises that can be accepted by both sides. Needless to say, many in Egypt have harshly criticized all the previous Egyptian mediations. The Mubarak formula of closing the border, tolerating the smuggling, and concurrently maintaining friendly links with Israel, was considered hypocritical. Later, political Islamists who labeled Mubarak as traitor for mediating with Israel, loved the idea of Morsi the “mediator” during the 2012 confrontation, and maintained a low key, almost muted criticism of Israeli aggression, which was also considered hypocritical by many Egyptians, especially after a ceasefire deal that technically limited the Palestinian’s “right of resistance.”

It is not just the hostility between the current leadership under Abdel Fatah Al-Sisi and Hamas leaders in Gaza that make any Egyptian mediation difficult. Hamas has ruled Egypt out as negotiator for a ceasefire. The attempt to smuggle rockets from Gaza, and to launch rockets from Sinai to Israel, will not entice the Egyptian authorities to help Hamas. Furthermore, the Muslim Brotherhood exploits the crisis to compensate for their failure to gather substantial protests on the anniversary of the ousting of Morsi on July 3. It is no coincidence that both the Brotherhood and Turkish leaderships advocate the 2012 ceasefire agreement that Morsi, undeservedly, gained credit for. Any new lull negotiated by Sisi on the basis of the “Morsi’s deal” will be counterproductive for Al-Sisi and his political clout inside Egypt.

Gaza has become a real Gordian knot. The chronic nature of the problem and the suffering of civilians have worked in favor of Hamas; whitewashing its political errors, and highlighting to the Israelis the limitations of their ugly, albeit futile deterrence. Despite the bluffing, most Israelis will not tolerate the heavy casualties that are likely if they were to reoccupy the Gaza strip. Nonetheless, as Hisham Melhem has pointed out, every time Hamas lobs rockets into Israel hoping to change the Israeli calculus, the exercise ends in failure.

It is unclear how the tragedy of Gaza will end. It is safe to say, however, with a certain degree of certainty that regardless of the outcome, the rules of the game have changed. Neither Hamas nor Israel can get away permanently with the “rockets versus strikes” formula in a region that has dramatically shifted. New players, new alliances, and new threats will ultimately force both sides to stop their cynical gambles. In addition, Hamas will not be able to exploit the tenacity of the Gazans forever.

There is so little that Egypt and other regional and international forces have left that can save both sides from self-inflicting harm, nonetheless they can focus on the civilian population and work to alleviate their misery. Sisi is quietly trying to detangle Gaza from Hamas. He is doing this by intermittently opening the border, and sending food and medical supplies to struggling civilians. That is not enough. Despite security risks, Egypt needs to keep the border open and maintain its humanitarian support. The scenes of Palestinian civilians trapped at the Rafah border are unacceptable. The Egyptian army can help the weak, the elderly, and the injured. A field hospital at the border may be needed if the situation deteriorates.

There are moments in history that force stakeholders to rethink their tactics and their general attitude; this crisis is one of those moments. Gaza deserves our help. Feckless warlords do not.

 

Nervana Mahmoud is a doctor, blogger and writer on Middle East issues. You can follow her on Twitter @Nervana_1

 

About the author

Nervana Mahmoud

Nervana Mahmoud

Nervana Mahmoud is a doctor, blogger and writer on Middle East issues.You can follow her on Twitter @Nervana_1


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