Thursday, July 10, 2014

The Israeli-Palestinian Crisis Needs Egypt’s Mohamed Morsi

Less than two years ago, the situation between Israel and the Palestinian territories seemed to be on the brink of disaster. In November 2012, Israeli airstikes pummeled the Gaza Strip while militants fired rockets back at Israeli towns. As scores of Palestinians died and Israeli families cowered, the international community seemed split and unsure about how to deal with it. Experienced international mediators looked impotent.
In fact, the one man who seemed able to step in had been a world leader only for a few months. And, unfortunately, he would be a world leader only for a few months longer.
At the time, Egyptian President Mohamed Morsi's role in the Israeli-Palestinian talks was something of a revelation. After the conclusion of the talks, all sides seemed to agree that Egypt had played the key role in solving the crisis. Here's how The Post's Michael Birnbaum put it in 2012:
The end result — an agreement between Israel and Hamas, which have long refused to acknowledge each other, brokered by a neighboring Islamist government — would have been unthinkable before the Arab Spring reshaped the region less than two years ago, toppling autocrats who had long held political Islam at bay and strengthening the hand of once-isolated groups such as Hamas.
Morsi had played a different game than his predecessor, Hosni Mubarak. While Egypt had negotiated peace treaties before, critics of the Egyptian autocrat had long argued that he had bowed to Israeli and U.S. pressure to isolate the Gaza Strip and Hamas. 
Morsi, Soon after entering office, he eased travel for Palestinians across the Rafah crossing in southern Gaza, a small but clearly noteworthy change of course.
As negotiations began in November 2012, no one was surprised that Morsi came down on the side of the Palestinians. What was surprising, however, was that he seemed to be able to do so without alienating the Israelis
The Egyptian president pledged to adhere to the 1979 Israel-Egypt peace treaty, for example, and kept lines of communication to Israel and the United States open as tensions grew. The communication and good faith proved fruitful: Just minutes before the brokered truce went into effect, Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu publicly said that he wanted to express his "appreciation for the efforts of Egypt to obtain a cease-fire.”
Egypt's first democratically elected leader was forced out of office a year ago. Morsi was eventually replaced by Egyptian military leader Abdel Fatah al-Sissi.
Would Morsi have been able to defuse the current tensions between the Israelis and the Palestinians? 
It's hard to deny that with the military coup that ousted Morsi, one of the glimmers of hope in Middle East diplomacy appears to have been extinguished just before we needed it most. 

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