Skip to main content

With cease-fire, Hamas' isolation has ended

By Salman Shaikh, Special to CNN
updated 5:19 PM EST, Fri November 23, 2012
Palestinian youths demonstrate on the Gaza border on Friday.
Palestinian youths demonstrate on the Gaza border on Friday.
STORY HIGHLIGHTS
  • In post-revolution Middle East, engagement with Hamas is feasible, Salman Shaikh says
  • Influence of Egypt, Turkey and Qatar was instrumental in delivering cease-fire, he says
  • Maintaining Gaza blockade only serves to further radicalize Gaza's population, he says
  • Obama administration should push for Palestinian unity and end to blockade, he says

Editor's note: Salman Shaikh is director of the Brookings Doha Center and a fellow at the Brookings Institution's Saban Center for Middle East Policy.

(CNN) -- Critics of the cease-fire reached Wednesday between Hamas and Israel argue that little has changed. For now, they say, the Egypt-brokered de-escalation has merely placed a Band-Aid over a seeping wound, restoring the status quo established after Israel's Operation Cast Lead offensive of late 2008. Certainly, we may well see the return of airstrikes and rockets; the truce represents only a small first step toward a more durable solution. The nature of the agreement, however, points to a clear "Arab Spring truth" and a significant shift in regional dynamics: The international isolation of Hamas has ended.

The influence exercised by Egypt, Turkey and Qatar was clearly instrumental in delivering this cease-fire. The role of Egyptian President Mohamed Morsy, in particular, has been praised by Hamas political leader Khaled Meshaal and U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton alike, with the latter commending Egypt's government for "assuming responsibility and leadership" in de-escalating the crisis.

Salman Shaikh
Salman Shaikh

Toward the end of 2011, Hamas' departure from Damascus was sealed when Meshaal refused to denounce the uprising against his former host and sponsor, Syrian President Bashar al-Assad. With its regional base and Iranian funding in jeopardy, Hamas has increasingly turned to its fellow Sunni allies in Egypt, Turkey and Qatar.

The degree of influence that this troika of Arab Spring playmakers has over Hamas' leaders, however, was revealed only by the recent crisis. The absence in negotiations of the Palestinian Authority and its president, Mahmoud Abbas, was telling. It shows that in a post-revolution Middle East, engagement with Hamas on its own is both feasible and tempting.

Opinion: How to prevent the next clash with Hamas

Become a fan of CNNOpinion
Stay up to date on the latest opinion, analysis and conversations through social media. Join us at Facebook/CNNOpinion and follow us @CNNOpinion on Twitter. We welcome your ideas and comments.



In this respect, however, the Egyptian president missed the opportunity to get Abbas and Meshaal working together and further stalled efforts at Palestinian unity. That is the demand of the overwhelming majority of Palestinians.

To be sure, Iran still has an important role to play with Hamas. Alongside Egypt -- and, remarkably, the U.S. -- Meshaal recognized on Wednesday the importance of Iran's contribution to his movement's efforts (in the field of resistance, rather than resolution). He praised Tehran for providing the group with arms and financial support, despite "differences between Iran and Hamas on issues connected with the conflict in Syria." In this respect, however, he is walking a fine line with his regional backers in order to keep his regional options open.

Will violence threaten cease-fire?
Buttu: Palestinians need reconciliation
Clashes flare in Gaza during cease-fire

It is worth remembering that Hamas is not a monolithic entity. Some within the movement are more focused on resistance, while others are focused on governance, reconciling with Fatah and reining in independent Gaza-based militants. This is something I heard privately in January 2011 in Gaza and subsequently when talking to some of Hamas' senior political officials. The international community -- and Israel -- should work with the newly emerged regional troika of Egypt-Turkey-Qatar to engage with Hamas and strengthen Hamas's pragmatic wing. Given the strength of its ties, though, Iran could still prove to be a spoiling influence.

This initiative, as specified by Clinton, should focus on steps toward "a just and lasting peace." Let us hope that the past week or so has renewed the Obama administration's drive to achieve Israeli-Palestinian peace. In the short term, this means pushing for Palestinian unity around a negotiating position and ending the blockade on Gaza, both of which the Qatari emir stressed in his landmark trip to Gaza last month.

The continuation of this blockade helps no one, and the destitution it imposes on Gazans has only further radicalized much of the largely young population. About 80% of Gaza's households live on less than $2 a day, while 1.3 million or 80% of its citizens receive some form of food aid. No wonder the U.N. recently declared that under current circumstances, the strip would be unlivable by 2020, citing shortages of food, water electricity, jobs, hospital beds and classrooms.

Opinion: Israel, engage Abbas now

If such conditions continue, Hamas may well resort to further rocket attacks against Israel's southern communities or turn a blind eye to other groups launching such terror attacks. Groups such as Palestinian Islamic Jihad, the al-Aqsa Martyrs' Brigades and the small but growing number of Salafi groups that have agreed to the cease-fire will pose a challenge to Hamas' authority, especially if there is no progress on the ground.

These international efforts begin with the implementation of the admittedly shaky cease-fire. Egypt has emphasized the importance of effectively ending the blockade on Gaza -- one of the conditions of the cease-fire document. In the post-Cast Lead border arrangement, Israel retained significant veto powers over the passage of people and the flow of goods through Egypt's border crossings with Gaza.

The new Egypt, however, has stressed the importance of formalizing the free flow of goods into and out of Gaza. In doing so, it wants to diminish the role of the "informal" tunnel economy, which, while generating large amounts of revenue for Hamas, has helped create an unstable situation in the Sinai badlands. If Israel now fails to deliver on its responsibilities regarding the conditions of the cease-fire, it risks not only a return to conflict but also losing the good will of Morsy.

The opinions expressed in this commentary are solely those of Salman Shaikh.

ADVERTISEMENT
Part of complete coverage on
updated 12:41 PM EDT, Wed April 23, 2014
Robert Hickey says most new housing development is high-end, catering to high-earners.
updated 9:17 AM EDT, Wed April 23, 2014
Alexander Motyl says as Russian President Putin snarled at Ukraine, his foreign minister was signing a conciliatory accord with the West. Whatever the game, the accord is a major stand down by Russia
updated 8:29 AM EDT, Wed April 23, 2014
Les Abend says at every turn, the stowaway teen defied the odds of discovery and survival. What pilot would have thought to look for a person in the wheel well?
updated 6:47 PM EDT, Tue April 22, 2014
Q & A with artist Rachel Sussman on her new book of photographs, "The Oldest Living Things in the World."
updated 3:58 PM EDT, Tue April 22, 2014
Martin Blaser says the overuse of antibiotics threatens to deplete our bodies of "good" microbes, leaving us vulnerable to an unstoppable plague--an "antibiotic winter"
updated 1:37 PM EDT, Tue April 22, 2014
John Sutter asks: Is it possible to eat meat in modern-day America and consider yourself an environmentalist without being a hypocrite?
updated 11:38 AM EDT, Tue April 22, 2014
Sally Kohn notes that Meb Keflezighi rightly was called an American after he won the Boston Marathon, but his status in the U.S. once was questioned
updated 8:56 AM EDT, Tue April 22, 2014
Denis Hayes and Scott Denman say on this Earth Day, the dawn of the Solar Age is already upon us and the Atomic Age of nuclear power is in decline
updated 4:36 PM EDT, Mon April 21, 2014
Retired Coast Guard officer James Loy says a ship captain bears huge responsibility.
updated 1:08 PM EDT, Mon April 21, 2014
Peter Bergen says the latest strikes are part of an aggressive U.S. effort to target militants, including a bomb maker
updated 9:45 AM EDT, Mon April 21, 2014
Cynthia Lummis and Peter Welch say 16 agencies carry out national intelligence, and their budgets are top secret. We need to know how they are spending our money.
updated 8:35 AM EDT, Mon April 21, 2014
Julian Zelizer says President Obama knows more than anyone that he has much at stake in the midterm elections.
updated 8:55 AM EDT, Tue April 22, 2014
Eric Sanderson says if you really want to strike a blow for the environment--and your health--this Earth Day, work to get cars out of cities and create transportation alternatives
updated 10:08 AM EDT, Mon April 21, 2014
Bruce Barcott looks at the dramatic differences in marijuana laws in Colorado and Louisiana
updated 4:47 PM EDT, Fri April 18, 2014
Jim Bell says NASA's latest discovery supports the notion that habitable worlds are probably common in the galaxy.
updated 2:17 PM EDT, Fri April 18, 2014
Jay Parini says even the Gospels skip the actual Resurrection and are sketchy on the appearances that followed.
updated 1:52 PM EDT, Fri April 18, 2014
Graham Allison says if an unchecked and emboldened Russia foments conflict in a nation like Latvia, a NATO member, the West would have to defend it.
updated 9:11 AM EDT, Fri April 18, 2014
John Sutter: Bad news, guys -- the pangolin we adopted is missing.
updated 2:25 PM EDT, Mon April 21, 2014
Ben Wildavsky says we need a better way to determine whether colleges are turning out graduates with superior education and abilities.
updated 6:26 AM EDT, Fri April 18, 2014
Charles Maclin, program manager working on the search and recovery of Malaysia Flight 370, explains how it works.
updated 8:50 AM EDT, Fri April 18, 2014
Jill Koyama says Michael Bloomberg is right to tackle gun violence, but we need to go beyond piecemeal state legislation.
updated 2:45 PM EDT, Thu April 17, 2014
Michael Bloomberg and Shannon Watts say Americans are ready for sensible gun laws, but politicians are cowed by the NRA. Everytown for Gun Safety will prove the NRA is not that powerful.
ADVERTISEMENT
ADVERTISEMENT
ADVERTISEMENT
ADVERTISEMENT