Morsi: West Asia's new peace-maker
The new approach to Israel’s offensive was dictated by the rise of people’s power in West Asia.
Changes forged in West Asia during the Arab Spring had a strong impact on the conduct of regional and international players during Israel’s latest war on Gaza.
All the players sought to avoid a repeat of the 2008-09 Israeli onslaught on the narrow coastal strip defended only by scratch militiamen armed largely with light weapons and home-made rockets.
During that 22-day conflict, Israel slew 1,445 Palestinians, mainly civilians, and devastated Gaza. A repeat of this scenario could have enraged the already roused and demanding ‘Arab street’ which has toppled Arab three Arab dictators since 2011 and continues to threaten the rest of the regimes in the region.
While the Israeli air, land, and sea assault on Gaza that ended with last week’s ceasefire was ferocious, destructive, and deadly, the death toll was 161 Palestinians and the devastation was less.
The person who gained most political benefit was Egypt’s president Muhammad Morsi, an obscure Muslim Brotherhood figure, who used his personal influence with Hamas, the offshoot of the Brotherhood that rules Gaza, to broker a ceasefire. Morsi had behind him the clout of the Brotherhood, which assumed power in Egypt following the ousting of ‘America’s man’ Pre-sident Hosni Mubarak in February 2011.
As soon as Israel’s bombs began to fall on Gaza, Morsi seized the political initiative. He dispatched Prime Minster Hisham Qandil to Gaza, convened an emergency meeting of the Arab League, and encouraged Egyptian and Arab politicians and medical missions to go to Gaza to show solidarity with the 1.6 million Palestinians who live there. Urgently needed medical supplies flowed into Gaza through Egypt's border crossing at the southern end of the strip while wounded were taken for treatment to Egyptian hospitals.
Morsi’s efforts contrasted sharply with the Mubarak regime’s policy of blaming Hamas for Israel’s war and sealing off Gaza. Popular resentment over his policy fuelled the uprising that toppled Mubarak. The new approach to Israel's offensive was dictated by democracy and the rise of people's power in West Asia. Rulers - whether democrats or autocrats - can no longer ignore public opinion which, in this region, is deeply and abidingly anti-Israel and, due to its uncritical support for Israel, anti-US.
President Barack Obama is being hailed as a winner in the US media because he dispatched secretary of state Hillary Clinton to Tel Aviv and Cairo with the aim of effecting a ceasefire. While she shuttled between the two cities and proclaimed the truce alongside Egyptian foreign minister Muhammad Kamel Amr in Cairo, the real work had already been done by Egypt. She was on hand because Israel demanded her presence as a reassurance that Obama was firmly behind it and would reward it for ceasing fire with money and weapons.
In West Asia itself, Obama earned hostility by, at first, declaring that Israel had a ‘right’ to defend itself against Gaza’s rockets - which had killed no Israeli since the beginning of the year - and then waiting for nearly a week while Israel's military slew Palstinians to send Clinton.
The US and its regional allies, including Israel, lost on the political front because Palestine, once again, became a major focus of international atten-tion and, perhaps, endeavour. The conflict in Syria has been sidelined at a time the US, Europe and their regional allies had hoped progress was being made in their drive to topple the regime of President Bashar al-Assad.
f the US, Israel and Egypt abide by the terms of the ceasefire, Israel will be compelled to lift or seriously ease its siege and blockade of Gaza, the casus belli of the strip’s rocket teams. Since it withdrew its settlers and soldiers from Gaza in 2005, Israel has mounted an ever tightening siege and blockade of the strip, allowing in only basic food and medical supplies and preventing trade and movement of its residents. Israel has repeatedly promised to lift the blockade but has not done so.
Morsi’s credibility with Egyptians and Arabs and on the international scene depends on Israel’s behaviour. If it fails to ease or end the siege and blockade, Palestinians are certain to resume their firing of missiles into southern Israel and the cycle of violence will resume with predictable consequences.
But if Morsi succeeds, he could end years of Arab passivity, reassert Egypt’s primacy on the Arab scene, and force other Arab leaders to, once again, consider their people’s demands rather than simply follow Washinton's instructions. If Israel were to find itself confronted by Arab governments serious about their commitment to a peace deal based on Israeli withdrawal from almost all Arab territory occupied in 1967, Israel might even be prepared to negotiate seriously.