After eight days of intensive long-range rocket fire from the Gaza Strip into Israeli population centers and retaliatory Israeli airstrikes against Hamas terrorist chiefs and infrastructure, a cease-fire was declared on Wednesday evening.
This temporary truce was not reached between the parties, however. Rather, it was brokered and announced by the United States and Egypt. Amid great fanfare — and another barrage of missiles falling on Israeli apartment buildings — U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton and Egyptian Foreign Minister Mohamed Kamel Amr held a joint press conference in Cairo to bear tidings of a “de-escalation of the situation in Gaza.”
Amr addressed the media first. “The government of Egypt will continue its efforts to achieve this noble objective through ongoing attempts to end the divisions between the various Palestinian factions and to assist them in achieving Palestinian national unity on the basis of genuine Palestinian values and interests,” he said. “Egypt appreciates the role of the Arab League, the valuable contributions of Turkey and Qatar, and those of the secretary-general of the United Nations to support the efforts of the government of Egypt to end the violence. At the same time, Egypt calls upon the international community to be engaged in monitoring the implementation of the Egyptian-brokered agreement and to ensure all parties adhere to these agreements.”
Then it was Clinton’s turn. “…The people of this region deserve the chance to live free from fear and violence, and today’s agreement is a step in the right direction that we should build on,” she said. “Now we have to focus on reaching a durable outcome that promotes regional stability and advances the security, dignity, and legitimate aspirations of Palestinians and Israelis alike. [Egyptian] President [Mohammed] Morsi and I discussed how the United States and Egypt can work together to support the next steps in that process. ... Ultimately, every step must move us toward a comprehensive peace for all the people of the region.”
It was to be expected that Amr would use the opportunity to tout his government’s role as a regional leader, while signalling to the Muslim Brotherhood that Egypt under Morsi was not about to abandon its radical Islamist allies or agenda.
Nor was it surprising that Clinton talked about Israel and the Palestinians on the same footing. On the contrary, it was the American administration’s uncharacteristically pro-Israel behavior during Operation Pillar of Defense that was cause for pleasant pause. Indeed, according to Israeli government sources, it was not President Barack Obama who pressured Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu into accepting the conditions of the cease-fire, but Netanyahu who asked the U.S. to intervene and help bring the mini-war to a close.
If so, the reason is clear. The Israel Defense Forces went as far as they could go in their mission from the air. The missile launchers and arsenals in Gaza have been strategically placed under nursery schools and hospitals. To finish destroying them without carpet bombing civilians (something Israel is never prepared to do on moral grounds), the IDF would have had to conduct a ground invasion. Yet Netanyahu feared that sending in the infantry would result in too many body bags.
Whatever logic this may have, two things are extremely puzzling. One is Netanyahu’s acceptance of the terms of the cease-fire. The other is the faith that the United States has put in post-"Arab Spring" Egypt.
According to the agreement, the Palestinian terrorists have only to stop murdering Israeli civilians. In exchange, “Israel shall stop all hostilities in the Gaza Strip land, sea and air, including incursions and targeting of individuals. (Note that there is no mention of the fact that the only “individuals” Israel has targeted are terror masters, and that the Israeli air force has taken the utmost care not to harm other members of the population.)
In addition, the agreement stipulates that Israel must begin “opening the crossings and facilitating the movement of people and transfer of goods and refraining from restricting residents' free movements and targeting residents in border areas.”
The final clincher is that if either side breaches the agreement, the other must appeal to Morsi to mediate. Talk about entrusting the frog to the scorpion. …
Well, this particular scorpion is celebrating even more than the terrorist groups in Gaza right now, who have been shooting off their mouths and many rounds of ammunition (even killing one of their own, by accident, in the process) to express joy at their slam-dunk “victory over the Zionists.”
Like them, Morsi has just been given a stamp of legitimacy. To honor his newfound and much-coveted position — one that guarantees him all the multi-millions of dollars and euros he needs to keep his hungry people from rising up against him — the Muslim Brotherhood honcho gave himself a gift.
On Thursday, the morning after his foreign minister was elevated to international standing by being put on a par with his American “counterpart” Clinton, Morsi took several measures to consolidate his power. Not only did he issue constitutional amendments placing him above judicial scrutiny, but he ordered that his predecessor, Hosni Mubarak, be put on trial again — even though the ousted autocrat is already serving a life sentence in prison.
He also declared that the Islamist-heavy panel drafting the new Egyptian constitution would have immunity from potential court decisions to dissolve it for its discriminatory position on women and Christians. And he decreed that no authority may overrule any of his decisions.
In response to criticism over the Hamas-friendly cease-fire deal, Netanyahu assured the Israeli public that, in the event of a Palestinian breach, he would resume the Gaza operation where he left off. He even asserted that Israel was “free” to do so if rockets began raining down as before. Maybe he didn’t read the contract.
Morsi, on the other hand — like his Hamas buddies — most certainly knows every period and comma of the short document by heart. Undoubtedly, he is counting on taking it to the bank, laughing all the way.
Ruthie Blum is the author of “To Hell in a Handbasket: Carter, Obama, and the Arab Spring." (RVP Press)