Why Getting a Gaza Cease-Fire Will Be Much Harder This Time Around

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July 24 2014 5:56 PM

Why Getting a Gaza Cease-Fire Will Be Much Harder This Time Around

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A picture taken from the northern Israel-Gaza border shows Israeli flares above Palestinian houses in the northern Gaza Strip on July 24, 2014.

Photo by David Buimovitch/AFP/Getty Images

The primary obstacle to reaching a cease-fire in Gaza, of course, is that neither Hamas nor the Israeli government seems particularly interested in one.

Joshua Keating Joshua Keating

Joshua Keating is a staff writer at Slate focusing on international affairs and writes the World blog. 

The last cease-fire the Israeli government agreed to didn’t stop the rockets, and now public opinion seems dead-set against any cease-fire deal short of complete destruction of Hamas’ tunnels and an end to rocket fire.

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Meanwhile, Hamas leader Khaled Meshal—currently in Qatar, far from the carnage—says he won’t agree to any cease-fire without an end to the Israeli blockade of Gaza, an opening of the Egyptian border, and the release of Hamas prisoners.

Previous outbreaks of war in Gaza—in 2008 and 2012—have ended with both sides being able to find some cause to declare “victory,” even if most underlying issues remained unaddressed. Given the conditions both sides have established for victory this time, that seems like it will be more difficult to achieve.

Plus, as the Christian Science Monitor’s Howard LaFranchi points out, recent political shifts in the Middle East make things much more difficult this time around.* In 2012 Mohamed Morsi’s Muslim Brotherhood government in Egypt was there to mediate. But Egypt’s current leaders, having destroyed the Strip’s smuggling tunnels and kept the border tightly closed throughout this crisis, have little credibility with Hamas. Hamas’ strategy, this time around, may be aimed as much at securing concessions from Egypt as from Israel.

Diplomatically ambitious Qatar, meanwhile, has a lot more credibility with Hamas, as does Turkey, but Israel has made clear it’s only interested in mediation from Egypt.

And thanks to tensions left over from the Arab Spring, Egypt’s government is not on great terms with what Foreign Minister Sameh Shukri called the “Hamas-Qatar-Turkey axis.”

So as John Kerry shuttles around a region where nobody appears particularly interested in talking with him, it’s beginning to seem like getting all these potential mediators on the same page may be necessary before there’s any chance of getting the two sides actually fighting to back off.

A deal acceptable to Hamas would presumably have to include some compromise from Egypt on the border and an aid package from its allies in the region. Whether Israel would agree to such a deal is probably contingent on when Israel feels it can declare its “tunnels project” completed. In any event, there’s a long way to go and despite the grim scenes today, both Israel and Hamas seem content to keep this going for a few more days.

Back in 2012, when a deal was finally reached ending eight days of violence and, in that instance, forestalling an Israeli ground invasion, the New York Times noted that “neither Israel nor Hamas was represented in the final talks or the announcement, leaving it in the hands of a singular partnership between their proxies, the United States and Egypt.”

This time around, when the bloodshed does eventually end, I won’t be surprised if it’s representatives of Egypt, Qatar, and Turkey we see shaking hands, with John Kerry somewhere in the background, and Israel and Hamas nowhere to be seen.

*Correction, July 25, 2014: This post originally misidentified Christian Science Monitor reporter Howard LaFranchi as Christian LaFranchi.

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