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The New York Times

Hard choices for Israel and Hamas before talks start

BRUSSELS – US and Egyptian mediators travel to Israel to start de-escalation talks, but antagonists must make critical political decisions before agreeing to start talks about ending the violence. Israel and Hamas must first find ways to convey a victory story to their audiences, analysts say, but it will be easier for Hamas than for Israel. Israel’s interim prime minister, Benjamin Netanyahu, must calculate the impact of the fighting on his own political fortunes, made more complicated by internal turmoil between Jews and Israeli Arabs in many cities inside Israel. The crucial decision for Israel is whether “victory” requires sending ground troops to Gaza, which would prolong the conflict and dramatically increase the death and injury toll on both sides. Sign up for The Morning New York Times newsletter For Palestinians, the indefinite postponement of elections last month by Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas has created a void that Hamas is more than willing to fill. Hamas argues that it is the only Palestinian faction that, with its large stockpile of improved missiles, defends Jerusalem’s holy sites, making Abbas a bystander. President Joe Biden has spoken to Netanyahu and repeated the usual phrase of Israel’s right to self-defense, and he dispatched an experienced diplomat, Assistant Under Secretary of State Hady Amr, to urge the de-escalation of two sides. But the United States does not speak to Hamas, seeing it as a terrorist organization, and Abbas has no real control over Gaza or Hamas. So, in all likelihood, Amr will speak to Egyptian security officials, given that Egypt has been the usual interlocutor in concluding the cycles of war between Israel and Hamas. This includes the last two large explosions, in 2008 and 2014, when the fighting lasted more than 50 days. Egypt on Thursday dispatched security officials to Tel Aviv, Israel, and Gaza to start talks, according to state newspaper Al-Ahram and broadcaster Al-Arabiya. Officially, the Egyptian Foreign Ministry, which does not deal with Hamas, has made no comment. Egyptian Foreign Minister Sameh Shoukry told an Arab League meeting on Tuesday that Egypt had contacted Israel and other “affected countries” in an attempt to quell the violence, but that Israel did not had not reacted. Abdel Monem Said Aly, a longtime analyst on Egyptian and regional relations in Cairo, said “Egypt will do its best” for the sake of regional stability. But he warned that Netanyahu’s decision whether or not to use ground troops would determine the duration of this wave of violence. “The issue is much more complicated than before,” he said, citing Israeli and Palestinian domestic politics and Egypt’s efforts “to steer the whole region towards a different and more stabilized future.” Egypt has leverage over Hamas because of its land border with Gaza, which Cairo can close or relax at will. “And, of course, Egypt will talk to Saudi Arabia and the Emirates, those with the money, about rebuilding in Gaza,” Aly said. “But the problem in Israel is not talking to Mr. Netanyahu – it’s easy – but the winds inside Israel itself and the great competition between different brands of conservatism.” On the Palestinian side, he said: “There is a similar vacuum of political legitimacy, and Hamas will score by raising Palestinian public opinion and increasing guilt in Islamic countries towards Palestinians and gaining more legitimacy. for future elections. ” Said Aly fears that the events will increase Islamic radicalism both in Gaza and in Israel, among its young Arab population. “Of course, Egypt will talk to everyone,” he said. “We will talk about the problems of the whole region, and we will not rule out the Palestinian question. But to what extent can someone help now is unclear. Hamas also has reason to be wary of Egypt and its leader, President Abdel-Fattah el-Sisi, according to Michele Dunne, former US official and director of the Middle East program at the Carnegie Endowment. El-Sisi sees Hamas as a branch of the Muslim Brotherhood, which remains powerful in Egypt, and in 2014 it did little to discourage Israel from invading Gaza in the hope of destroying Hamas. The violence may take time to subside, said Mark Heller of the Institute for National Security Studies at Tel Aviv University. “At one point Israel remembers that there is no way it can achieve a decisive result at a cost that is tolerable to itself,” he said, “and Hamas realizes that the costs and the risks to its own political viability and control over Gaza are becoming too great. a lot. “At this point, Heller said, Hamas accepts” what they always say is a temporary ceasefire, not peace, and usually gets some sort of reward, I suspect this time the Qataris. L ‘Egypt is generally the interlocutor “and the fig leaf” for negotiations between Hamas and Israel, which both sides deny but which go on almost continuously on many smaller issues, he said. ‘Egypt is aware that it has to mend the fences with Biden after the departure of former President Donald Trump, said Daniel Levy, president of the United States / Middle East project. “I think Cairo wants to demonstrate its importance for Biden, “he said, noting the start of reconciliation talks with Qatar and Turkey. Qatar, a wealthy emirate, is funding both Hamas and the Arab press operation Al-Jazeera, and Turkey was a staunch supporter of Hamas. This had put them at odds with Egypt. But with Biden’s election, Egypt has cautiously followed Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates in an attempt to calm relations with Qatar and Turkey. Muslim countries have criticized Israel’s actions, but largely superficially so far, given that many of their leaders are wary of Islamist radicalism. Many Arab countries have dismissed the Palestinian issue and are looking beyond Abbas to see, and try to manipulate, who will succeed him as head of Fatah and the Palestine Liberation Organization. But for now, with so much Israeli attention to internal conflicts between young Jewish and Arab citizens, Levy said, a lot is on the table, and the struggle for Gaza may seem less important. It can also distract Israeli security forces, making a ground incursion less likely. “This conflict is an extremely disorienting and disturbing development and a much more worrying issue, frankly, than Hamas,” Heller said. “The military can take care of Hamas, but we need something to take care of Israeli society, and at the moment we don’t have that. This article originally appeared in The New York Times. © 2021 The New York Times Company

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