Skip to main content

With cease-fire, Hamas' isolation has ended

By Salman Shaikh, Special to CNN
November 23, 2012 -- Updated 2219 GMT (0619 HKT)
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
September 22, 2014 -- Updated 1259 GMT (2059 HKT)
You could be forgiven for thinking no one cares -- or even should care, right now -- about climate change, writes CNN's John Sutter. But you'd be mistaken.
September 21, 2014 -- Updated 2132 GMT (0532 HKT)
David Gergen says the White House's war against ISIS is getting off to a rough start and needs to be set right
September 22, 2014 -- Updated 1300 GMT (2100 HKT)
John Sutter boarded a leaky oyster boat in Connecticut with a captain who can't swim as he set off to get world leaders to act on climate change
September 22, 2014 -- Updated 1917 GMT (0317 HKT)
Ruben Navarrette says making rude use of the Mexican flag on Mexican independence day in a concert in Mexico was extremely tasteless, but not an international incident.
September 22, 2014 -- Updated 1359 GMT (2159 HKT)
Michael Dunn is going to stand trial again after a jury was unable to reach a verdict; Mark O'Mara hopes for a fair trial.
September 22, 2014 -- Updated 2315 GMT (0715 HKT)
Is ballet dying? CNN spoke with Isabella Boylston, a principal dancer at the American Ballet Theatre, about the future of the art form.
September 19, 2014 -- Updated 2147 GMT (0547 HKT)
Sally Kohn says it's time we take climate change as seriously as we do warfare in the Middle East
September 22, 2014 -- Updated 1927 GMT (0327 HKT)
Laurence Steinberg says the high obesity rate among young children is worrisome for a host of reasons
September 19, 2014 -- Updated 1302 GMT (2102 HKT)
Dean Obeidallah says an Oklahoma state representative's hateful remarks were rightfully condemned by religious leaders..
September 19, 2014 -- Updated 1922 GMT (0322 HKT)
No matter how much planning has gone into U.S. military plans to counter the Islamic State in Iraq and Syria, the Arab public isn't convinced that anything will change, says Geneive Abdo
September 19, 2014 -- Updated 1544 GMT (2344 HKT)
President Obama's strategy for destroying ISIS seems to depend on a volley of air strikes. That won't be enough, says Haider Mullick.
September 19, 2014 -- Updated 1303 GMT (2103 HKT)
Paul Begala says Hillary Clinton has plenty of good reasons not to jump into the 2016 race now
September 19, 2014 -- Updated 1501 GMT (2301 HKT)
Scotland decided to trust its 16-year-olds to vote in the biggest question in its history. Americans, in contrast, don't even trust theirs to help pick the county sheriff. Who's right?
September 19, 2014 -- Updated 0157 GMT (0957 HKT)
Ruben Navarrette says spanking is an acceptable form of disciplining a child, as long as you follow the rules.
September 19, 2014 -- Updated 1547 GMT (2347 HKT)
Frida Ghitis says the foiled Australian plot shows ISIS is working diligently to taunt the U.S. and its allies.
September 19, 2014 -- Updated 1958 GMT (0358 HKT)
Young U.S. voters by and large just do not see the midterm elections offering legitimate choices because, in their eyes, Congress has proven to be largely ineffectual, and worse uncaring, argues John Della Volpe
September 19, 2014 -- Updated 0158 GMT (0958 HKT)
Steven Holmes says spanking, a practice that is ingrained in our culture, accomplishes nothing positive and causes harm.
September 18, 2014 -- Updated 1831 GMT (0231 HKT)
Sally Kohn says America tried "Cowboy Adventurism" as a foreign policy strategy; it failed. So why try it again?
September 18, 2014 -- Updated 1427 GMT (2227 HKT)
Van Jones says the video of John Crawford III, who was shot by a police officer in Walmart, should be released.
September 18, 2014 -- Updated 1448 GMT (2248 HKT)
NASA will need to embrace new entrants and promote a lot more competition in future, argues Newt Gingrich.
September 16, 2014 -- Updated 2315 GMT (0715 HKT)
If U.S. wants to see real change in Iraq and Syria, it will have to empower moderate forces, says Fouad Siniora.
September 18, 2014 -- Updated 0034 GMT (0834 HKT)
Mark O'Mara says there are basic rules to follow when interacting with law enforcement: respect their authority.
September 16, 2014 -- Updated 1305 GMT (2105 HKT)
LZ Granderson says Congress has rebuked the NFL on domestic violence issue, but why not a federal judge?
September 16, 2014 -- Updated 1149 GMT (1949 HKT)
Mel Robbins says the only person you can legally hit in the United States is a child. That's wrong.
September 15, 2014 -- Updated 1723 GMT (0123 HKT)
Eric Liu says seeing many friends fight so hard for same-sex marriage rights made him appreciate marriage.
ADVERTISEMENT