By Dr. Elias Akleh
The Israeli attack on Gaza had exposed the treacherous role the Egyptian Mubarak’s regime had been playing, since he received presidency, in the Arab/Israeli conflict and in the Palestinian/Palestinian division. During the attack Mubarak’s regime tried to portray itself as an honest mediator between Israel and Hamas, while, in reality, it was playing the role of an Israeli proxy negotiator, who was trying to impose Israeli conditions on Hamas government. The Israeli Foreign Minister, Tsibi Livni, had hinted to this when she stated that the negotiations through Egypt were not with Hamas but against it.
Few days before the Israeli onslaught on Gaza Tsibi Livni traveled to Egypt to coordinate with the Egyptian regime its role in the Israeli onslaught against Gaza. The Egyptian role was to keep Rafah Crossing closed against all fleeing Palestinians to safety in Egyptian territory, and against the flow of all kinds of aid into Gaza. Egyptian regime would, later, exonerate itself through an Egyptian/Israeli already-agreed upon ceasefire agreement.
The assumption was that the massive Israeli onslaught against Gaza would destroy Hamas government within a week, after which Palestinians would run to Egypt asking for mediation with Israel. Egypt had in the past played the role of mediator between Palestinians and Israel. Egyptian regime would “negotiate” a ceasefire and the “return” of the Palestinian security forces to Gaza, under the leadership of Mohamad Dahlan, in return for withdrawal of Israeli army from Gaza and for humanitarian aid.
Livni had also traveled to France to gain Nicolas Sarkozy’s support to this ceasefire plan especially if or when the matter reaches to the UN Security Council. France held the presidency of the Security Council for the month.
During the first week of the Israeli attack, Sarkozy traveled to Ramallah to hug Abbas describing him as “a man of peace, moderation and dialogue”. He also asserted the European support to and confidence in Abbas. Adopting the Western policy of always blaming the Palestinian victims for the occupation, Sarkozy blamed Hamas for “acting in an irresponsible and unpardonable way”. There was no mention of ending the Israeli occupation.
In Egypt we saw Sarkozy’s hugs to President Mubarak and his condescending pat on his shoulders during the press conference. Sarkozy stressed his belief that Egypt is qualified to play a key and indispensable role in containing the “crisis” as it had done in the past. Egyptian officials, especially its Foreign Minister Ahmed Abul-Gheit, blamed Hamas for the Israeli attack, but expressed Egypt’s willingness to negotiate a ceasefire on behalf of the Palestinians with Israel.
When Arab populations marched into the streets of every Arab capital in mass demanding an Arab Summit to come up with a response to the Israeli attack, Abul-Gheit sabotaged such a summit claiming the situation does not warrant one. He called for a ministerial meeting instead. This meeting did nothing but dumped the situation onto the Security Council.
The Security Council was manipulated and sabotaged by France and the US. But on the insistence of Arab ministers not to go back to their angry populations empty handed, the Council was led by the US to vote for resolution 1860 although the US abstained in the last minute claiming that it wants to give the Franco-Egyptian peace proposal a chance.
Although Resolution 1860 has all the Israeli demands; disarming Palestinians, controlling arms “smuggling”, sustaining the economic blockade and giving Israel supervision of all crossings, Israel rejected the resolution because it failed, yet, to destroy Hamas. The total destruction of Hamas was one of the major goals of the Israeli attack as stated by many Israeli officials.
Israel intensified its barbaric slaughter of Gaza hoping to pressure Hamas into accepting its demands offered through the Egyptian ceasefire proposal. The Israeli demands were the same the Resolution 1860 stipulated, but Israel wanted to a “private” local agreement without the international demands that may interfere in its methods of dealing with things especially with border crossings. Israel wanted to sustain its blockade of Gaza.
Mubarak’s regime invited Hamas representatives to negotiate ceasefire conditions. These conditions included a ceasefire for 15 days, with Israel’s army still in Gaza, during which an arrangement for a 15 years ceasefire would take place, rebuilding the Palestinian security forces under Abbas’ control, forming an international force, or possibly an Arab force (Abbas’ special forces waiting on the Egyptian side) to monitor borders and to stop arms acquisition “smuggling”, reverting back to 2005 agreement for border crossings with international monitoring, and Hamas’ commitment not to smuggle or manufacture weapons and to stop resistance. In return Gaza would receive humanitarian aid, and Hamas leaders would be given immunity from Israeli assassination. Hamas rejected the conditions because they maintain the Israeli occupation, deprive them from their legitimate right of resistance, and forgive Israeli aggression against Gaza.
Hamas perceived the Egyptian proposal as an attempt to accomplish politically what the Israelis failed to accomplish militarily. Its leaders, strengthened by international popular support, put forth their demands for ceasefire. These include the immediate Israeli withdrawal, the complete breaking of the blockade, and the opening of all border crossings. They asked for stronger guarantees that Egypt could not offer, since Hamas had lost trust in Egypt.
Due to popular pressure against Mubarak’s regime, especially within Egypt itself, and due to Hamas persistence on its conditions, Abul-Gheit traveled to Turkey asking for the help of its premier Recep Erdogan, whom Hamas trust. Yet when Erdogan castigated Israel for its refusal to abide by resolution 1860, criticized Israel harshly, and asked for imposing international sanctions against Israel, The Egyptian regime tried to marginalize his role.
Al-Khalij newspaper reported that Turkish security had uncovered a scheme to assassinate Turkish Premier Erdogan with Israeli weapons. Turkish security sources had disclosed they had apprehended a cell that was planning the assassination of Erdogan and other prominent politicians, in addition to blasting other commercial centers in the capital Ankara. The sources stated that the seized arms cache found in an Ankara suburb on Thursday 1/8 revealed that all weapons were imported from Israel. It would have believed that such an assassination would have come as a response to Erdogan’s harsh criticism of Israel. This does not come as a surprise since Israeli history is full with assassinations of prominent political leaders and UN representatives such as the Egyptian British Minister Lord Moyne (1944), the UN mediator Folke Bernadotte (1948), and many other Palestinian resistance leaders, for criticizing Israel’s crimes.
Israel wanted to reach a ceasefire agreement, but it did not want to give any legitimacy to Hamas by negotiating directly with them. Therefore Israel pushed Egyptian regime to become its proxy negotiator to extract from Hamas as much concession as it could. Then Israel would come in to demand some more.
Unexpectedly to the Israelis, their intensified assault on Gaza did not succeed in pressuring Hamas leaders, who, opposite to all expectations, stood their grounds, and had demanded a price for the Israeli aggression.
Faced with the outrage of the international community and the threat of a special session of the UN General Assembly, and the coming Arab Summit in Kuwait, the Israelis felt the pressure to stop their aggression. Yet they needed some kind of political victory. The Egyptian ceasefire proposal did not produce the Israeli expected results, and Mubarak refused to deploy any international force on the Egyptian side of the border to destroy tunnels and prevent arms smuggling. So the Israelis had to resort to their unconditional advocate and ever savior; the good old US.
Israel ignored UN resolution, bypassed all its Arab moderate partners, and on Friday, January 16, Tzipi Livni and US Secretary of State, Condoleezza Rice, signed a memorandum of understanding (MOU) aimed at stopping arms smuggling into the Gaza Strip. This MOU had regionalized the conflict by accusing Syria and Iran of supplying Hamas with weapons.
Dealing with the 360 square Kilometers Gaza Strip as if it was a large country like Iran or North Korea, the MOU outlines a framework under which the US will provide (on the expense of the generous tax payers) military, intelligence and surveillance equipment, as well as training to Israel, Egypt and other countries in the region to monitor the Gaza Strip, and to prevent arms “smuggling”. Britain, France, and Germany had offered to send their warships to join into this task.
Despite the collaboration of the Egyptian regime in choking and weakening Hamas government, and playing the Israeli proxy mediator role rather than supporting their Arab brothers against the Israeli genocide, Mubarak’s regime was abandoned and left exposed as a traitor, and was not given the chance to exonerate itself. Such is the fate of all so-called moderate Arab leaders. They are to be used and dumped when their usefulness expires.
– Dr. Elias Akleh is an Arab writer of Palestinian descent, born in the town of Beit-Jala. Currently he lives in the US. He contributed this article to PalestineChronicle.com.