The Gaza Crisis: Will the Ceasefire Lead to Peace?
AS THE latest war between Israel and the Palestinians threatened to spiral out of control, the airspace over Egypt’s capital, Cairo, seemed almost as crowded with envoys and grandees as Gaza’s with drones, bombs and rockets. On November 21st, a week after the violence intensified with the Israeli assassination of Hamas’s military commander, diplomacy seemed to prevail, as a ceasefire was agreed.
After at least 140 Palestinians, more than half of them civilians, had been killed, along with five Israelis, the Gazan rockets stopped firing at Israel and the Israelis stopped pummelling Gaza from the air, sea and land. No one believed that large-scale violence between Palestinians and Israelis would cease for ever. But there was huge relief, across the region and the wider world, that this time round it had not been a lot worse.
Among others coming and going were the UN secretary-general, the American secretary of state and the foreign ministers of Turkey and Germany. But the real bargaining took place behind closed doors at the headquarters of General Muhammad Shehata, Egypt’s intelligence chief. There, in separate rooms, the Egyptians haggled with a legal adviser to the Israeli prime minister, and with representatives from Hamas, the Palestinian Islamist group that runs Gaza, and a smaller, more radical Palestinian faction, Islamic Jihad.
Most notable for their lack of diplomatic input were the Palestinians’ globally recognised leader, Mahmoud Abbas, who hopes to win enhanced observer-state status for Palestine next week at the UN, and unusually, at least to begin with, the United States. However, Hillary Clinton, the secretary of state, cutting short an Asian voyage with her president, Barack Obama, was later credited with persuading Binyamin Netanyahu, Israel’s prime minister, to stay his hand. Egypt’s new Islamist president, Muhammad Morsi, emerged for the first time as the key regional peacemaker, prodding his ideological brethren in Hamas into giving an assurance that they would stop firing rockets at Israel.
Everyone knows that a single impetuous action deemed by one side to flout the agreement could set the cycle of tit-for-tat violence spinning again. The bombing of an Israeli bus in Tel Aviv on November 21st, wounding a score of people, momentarily threatened to scupper the deal. All the same, there were high hopes that a breakthrough has been achieved.