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November 22, 2012
The Gaza ceasefire is the end of the beginning.
Anyone who believes that the current ceasefire between Israel and the Hamas terrorists in Gaza will hold has to ignore modern Middle East history, Hamas, and the Palestinian and Hamas charters.
With regard to modern history, we need to look back no further than operation Cast Lead in 2009 to appreciate what ceasefires mean to Hamas:
Ceasefire negotiations are taking place under the shadow of bitter experience of previous truces, most prominently Israel's unilateral ceasefire ending the three-week Operation Cast Lead campaign in January 2009.
The government of former Prime Minister Ehud Olmert declared that as of January 18, 2009, "First a ceasefire is declared. If Hamas stops firing rockets, then Israel pulls its forces out of the Gaza Strip. If rocket fire resumes then the IDF goes back in, this time with the international backing gained by having tried a truce."
Hamas spokesman Farzi Barhoum said at the time, "The occupier must halt his fire immediately and withdraw from our land and lift his blockade and open all crossings and we will not accept any one Zionist soldier on our land, regardless of the price that it costs."
Barhoum was speaking the truth in 2009. Unfortunately, Westerners didn't grasp his meaning. He began with an assertion that Israel is an "occupier", but an occupier of what? Westerners thought that he meant an occupier of Gaza, but that can't be the case because Israel pulled out of Gaza in 2005.
The Hamas spokesman was referring to the existence of the State of Israel. Israel's presence in the Middle East is "occupation" in the minds of most Arabs, especially those in Hamas and the PA. Stated simply, Barhoum was saying that as long as Israel exists, there will be war.
Next, Barhoum declared that the occupier (i.e., Israel) must "lift his blockade and open all crossings." It's true that Israel has blockaded Gaza on Israel's western border and on the Mediterranean Sea, but Egypt controls the border on the southern end of Gaza. Israel couldn't and can't tell Egypt what to do, and wisely Egypt has taken precautions to make sure that radical elements in Gaza don't spill over into the Land of the Pharaohs by maintaining control of those border crossings. They open and close them as often as Hamas changes its allegiances, and Egypt doesn't feel the need to consult with Israel before taking action.
It's apparent that President Obama and other Western leaders are pinning their hopes for a successful resolution of the current hostilities on Egyptian President Mohamed Morsi, but will he come through for them? Publicly Morsi has taken sides with Hamas:
The "grotesque Israeli aggression" to which Morsi referred is not aggression at all, and he knows it. Operation Pillar of Defense was a direct response to months of unprovoked rocket and mortar attacks on innocent Israeli civilians by Hamas terrorists.
Given his past and present affiliation with the Muslim Brotherhood, I think that it's safe to say that in his heart of hearts Morsi thinks that Israel shouldn't exist. Any other conclusion flies in the face of logic and common sense. Relying on him to be an honest broker between Hamas and Israel is fraught with risk, and in the end, it may backfire or possibly even explode into a much broader Middle East conflict or worse. It may even be a prelude to World War III.
As Egypt's president, Morsi has to walk a tightrope between radical Islamists in Egypt and Western powers, most notably the United States, and maintaining his balance hasn't been easy to say the least. The fact that there is a growing rift between Morsi, the Muslim Brotherhood, and the Salafist Call has been obvious since the day he took office. In due course, his true leanings must prevail because his life is almost certainly in danger if he goes too far to accommodate Western interests. More than anyone else, Morsi knows that.
In a nutshell, this is the bottom line: as long as Hamas, the PA, and radical Islamists including but not limited to those in Iran call for Israel's destruction, there will be war in the Middle East. In that light, the current ceasefire can be seen as just another lull in the fighting. Nothing that Morsi, President Obama, or any other world leader says for public consumption will change that reality.
Paraphrasing Winston Churchill, "The Gaza ceasefire is not the end. It is not even the beginning of the end. But it is, perhaps, the end of the beginning," but the end of the beginning of what? Another broader war in the Middle East, the resumption of current hostilities, or a global conflagration are the only possibilities that make any sense.
Neil Snyder is the Ralph A. Beeton Chaired Professor Emeritus at the University of Virginia. His blog, SnyderTalk.com, is posted daily.
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