As Hamas confronts Israel, its Arab support swells
The last time Israel went to war with Gaza, it didn't have to worry about regional diplomatic fallout. The Arab uprisings have changed that calculus.
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Yet the official was passionate about the president's decision to take what he considers a more principled stand than Morsi's predecessor, and made it clear that Morsi was determined to do so.Skip to next paragraph
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"It is time to try to find a way of achieving peace based on justice. and justice based on [the principle that] all people living in this region have a right to live as human beings, not just one side," he says.
His voice rose as he spoke about international assertions that Israel was acting in self defense. Israel's military says Palestinian militants have launched nearly 1,000 rockets into Israel since the start of the escalation on Nov. 14.
Egypt has let Israel know that "this is no longer the Egypt you used to know," he says. "We are accountable to the people who elected us."
But how much Morsi can reverse more than 30 years of cooperation is limited, say analysts. He has indicated that he is not interested in ending Egypt’s 1979 peace treaty with Israel. And while opening Egypt’s border with Gaza at Rafah to trade, which would undermine the Israeli blockade on the territory, would please Hamas, it would also give Israel an excuse to close its own borders with Gaza, making the welfare of the territory Egypt’s burden.
“Of course there will be a clear turn around or change from Mubarak's policy toward Israel and the region,” says Emad Shahin, a professor at the American University in Cairo. “But on the ground of course Egypt is bound by certain legal limitations and its own limitations when it comes to capabilities and the extent to which the Egyptian regime can confront Israel.”
The Arab states’ reaction has so far been mostly rhetoric, and Morsi has not yet defined how he will deal with Jerusalem, says Anani of Durham University. “The reaction is to absorb anger in the street, more than acting based on clear policy or vision on what should be next.”
“The Israeli question, or the Israeli dilemma, he's trying to avoid,” he says. “Each time there is a crisis between the two countries or on the border, he's trying to postpone the issue. But until when? I think one of the issues of the Israeli attack on Gaza is to test the willingness of Morsi to continue the role as a neutral mediator between Hamas and Israel.”
The longer the violence goes on, the more anger among the public and the greater the pressure placed on Morsi and other Arab rulers, says Anani. So far, there have only been tiny protests in Cairo expressing anger at the Israeli assault and demanding more action from Egypt. But that could change if Israel launched a ground invasion, or continued to launch airstrikes and the civilian toll rises. If it goes on, Egyptians will likely think he isn't doing enough to stop it, and will pressure him to take bolder steps.
That makes Morsi eager to bring the two sides to an agreement. Shadi Hamid, the director of research at the Brookings Doha Center, says that may be more possible now than it was under Mubarak because of Egypt's improved ties with Hamas.
"Egypt now is a much more credible negotiator. It has bargaining power with both sides and not just one," he says.