15 FEBRUARY 2009
|EGYPT ALMOST BROKERED GAZA CEASEFIRE
After every active party in the region recognized that Egypt's mediation was the only one with a realistic
outcome, Cairo moved quickly
to seal a defacto deal between Hamas and Israel over Gaza by mid-February. The first indication of positive development
was the arrival from Gaza on February 11 of the most senior Hamas leader, Mahmud Zahar. That meant that both the
political and military wings were initially on board. Another indication was a regular shuttle from Jerusalem by a senior Israeli
official. A third indication was a discreet gathering between Fatah and Hamas delegations in Cairo under the
chairmanship of Egypt's main expert on Palestinian issues: Intelligence Chief General Omar Suleiman.
To ensure support by key powers abroad, President Mubarak made a quick visit to President Gul in Istanbul, to
President Sarkozy in Paris on
February 12, and the following day the dynamic Foreign Minister, its former chief delegate to the U.N., Ahmed Abul
Ghait, was visiting Secretary of State Clinton in Washington. A meeting on the reconstruction of Gaza was agreed for
Monday, 2 March. Secretary Clinton is expected to participate upon her return from her maiden East Asia tour. France
is a Permanent member of the Security Council and its current President perceives himself as a key political broker
in the region. Turkey is a current Council member and has excellent connections with both conflicting Palestinian
factions. The President of Syria, which hosts the political leadership of Hamas, received an unusual guest; after a three
year boycoot, the Saudi King sent his chief of "Intelligence," Prince Migrin, with a special message no doubt in
consultation with Cairo.
Details of the arrangements were kept confidential to avoid having public arguments via media networks. But it is
understood that a
ceasefire will be a first step followed by the opening of passages, like that of Rafah. While Egypt clearly
controls its side of those passages, supervision on the other side will have to be handled first among the Palestinians
themselves (that is between Hamas that controls Gaza and the Palestinian Authority in Ramallah, dominated by Fatah). Hence
the meeting in Cairo to explore options on what happens in the Strip and possibly a reconciliation that would move the
Palestinians to a less fragmented, more unified position. There is also the Israeli position, as the IDF occupies
that area beyond Rafah. With every measure accomplished, steps would be taken to move to the next stage.
An agreement was expected to be announced the beginning of the 16 February week. It included a ceasefire
initially for 18 months, accompanied by opening 80% of the closed passages and further peace-building measures. Last
minute counterproposals, however, delayed that hopeful prospect. A demand to release Israeli kindapped soldier
Shalitt was countered by a demand to release Palestinian prisoners, notably Marwan Barghouty of Fate, three from
Hamas, and a PLFP leader. While negotiations continue, additional efforts are
being made to avoid any action that would derail the whole process. Egypt seems keen to ensure that
everyone is fully on board before unfolding its general plan and its own positive role.
It is a pity that the U.N. Secretary General, who started rightly by visiting Cairo on the first leg of his visit
to the region -- and Gaza -- did not proceed to play a continued role which would have given him personally and the
U.N. much needed credit.