Monday, February 16, 2009

Opinion: Egypt's Strategy Toward Gaza is an Incremental, Long-term One - Gamal Soltan

The Daily Star (Lebanon), February 17, 2009 - ....Egypt is squeezed between Israel and Hamas. In Egypt's view, there is no lasting formula for reconciliation between today's Hamas and Israel. Only interim arrangements such as the six-month truce can be reached within these constraints. Egypt's strategy toward the situation in Gaza is an incremental long-term one, whereas the two direct parties to the conflict are rushing to achieve immediate results.

Egypt has multiple concerns regarding the situation in Gaza. Its main concern is to prevent the de facto separation between the West Bank and Gaza Strip from developing into a de jure second partition of Palestine. Egypt is also keen not to starve the people of Gaza. Their suffering places Egypt under unbearable domestic and regional pressures; the Gazans might break into Egyptian territory or treat Egypt as the instigator and therefore a legitimate target for reprisals.

Egypt believes that Hamas is a genuine force in Palestine that can neither be ignored nor eliminated. However, Egypt also believes that Hamas, as an integral part of the radical destabilizing forces in the Middle East, should be gradually contained. While Israel shares with Egypt the goal of containing radicalism, it shows indifference to Egypt's gradualist approach. The recent war on Gaza testifies to Egyptian-Israeli differences in this regard.

Egypt's dilemma stems from the fact that it is neither happy with Hamas nor capable of pressuring it beyond a certain limit. Egypt's long-term policy had sought to guide Hamas toward a safe landing in the realm of moderation and pragmatism, but the Gaza war disrupted this endeavor. While that war is also likely to help accelerate Hamas' moderation, the cost incurred by Egypt has been heavy and risky; it could have been avoided if it were not for the confrontational policies pursued by both Hamas and Israel....

Gamal A. G. Soltan is a senior research fellow at the Al-Ahram Center for Political and Strategic Studies in Cairo and a visiting professor of political science at the American University in Cairo. This commentary first appeared at Bitterlemons , an online newsletter that publishes views on Middle Eastern and Islamic issues.

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