Analysis: Blockade-busting backfires
Much more at the link.
More than a month after the Turkish flotilla incident, the Israeli-Palestinian peace camp has so far managed to thwart the opposing agenda of Hamas and its supporters. The incident’s political and practical consequences reveal the grounds for such an unexpected and – for the parties in the Middle East peace process – fortunate finding.
The initial aftermath of the May 31 flotilla interception witnessed a few abortive signals that Hamas might gain greater global acceptance. One Russian statement suggested negotiations with Hamas, disregarding the long-standing Quartet conditions, to which Moscow is a party. A few former US diplomats made similar appeals, and some Hamas spokesmen responded by seeming to welcome such dialogue.
These tentative overtures proved fruitless, however.
According to one US official, various Hamas leaders appeared willing to play the political game, but not enough to make a difference.
As Hamas representative Ahmed Bahr told the Egyptian daily Al-Masry al-Youm on June 20, the group wants a deal “that gives Palestinians their dignity back, which rules out the Quartet conditions and those stipulated by the US.” Turkish prime minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan put it (perhaps unintentionally) well in a June 28 interview, claiming that he had personally convinced Hamas to adjust its rejectionist posture “to a certain extent” – in other words, not far enough.
As a result, Hamas has no more international legitimacy today than it did before the flotilla episode.
Symptomatic of this is the statement issued by the G-8 countries, including Russia, at the close of their recent Canadian summit.
The section on the peace process makes no mention of Hamas at all.
Instead, it reaffirms the goal of Israel and a Palestinian state “living side by side in peace and security,” welcomes Israel’s decision to investigate the flotilla incident and adopt “a new policy” toward Gaza, balances “the needs of Gaza’s population” with “the legitimate security concerns of Israel,” and urges “the strengthening of Palestinian Authority institutions” – all at the expense, at least implicitly, of Hamas.
And on Monday, speaking in Jerusalem, Russian foreign minister Sergei Lavrov noted that Moscow would continue to “engage” with Hamas, but did not call for the group’s inclusion in any other diplomatic discussions.
Cairo remains very uncomfortable with Hamas on its border, yet has so far been ineffective in supporting any alternative arrangement. Its desultory attempt to dilute Hamas’s power in Gaza by mediating a new unity agreement with Fatah has failed.
For a brief moment after the flotilla incident, Turkey seemed poised to assume the mediator’s role, this time with a pro-Hamas tilt. Within a couple weeks, however, Egypt and the Palestinian Authority were able to deflect this impulse, partly by mobilizing an informal Arab consensus against it.
Ironically, the capstone of this containment effort was Arab League Secretary- General Amr Mousa’s unprecedented June 13 visit to Hamas-ruled Gaza. While there, he repeatedly called on Hamas to sign the Egyptian reconciliation plan it had rejected last October. Yet, as Egypt’s Foreign Ministry spokesman explained on June 26, Hamas leaders “insist on rejecting the Egyptian paper, because they do not want the legitimate Palestinian Authority to return to Gaza.”
Over the past few days, the exchange of public insults between Cairo and Hamas has grown ever more shrill and categorical. On June 28, the semi-official Egyptian daily Al-Akhbar called Hamas a “suspicious secessionist movement,” sarcastically thanking it for enabling Cairo to escape the “quagmire” of Palestinian unity negotiations.
On the ground, security and political factors make Egypt loath to open its border with Gaza more than a crack. Remarkably, on the very same day of the flotilla incident, Palestinians killed an Egyptian soldier in a shootout over the new underground steel wall Cairo is constructing to block smuggling tunnels