With Ban ki-Moon and John Kerry arriving in Cairo today, there will be lots of talk about a cease-fire deal. It is important that the United States keep Egypt in the forefront, and keep using the term “cease-fire.”
As to Egypt, it is not only that the Egyptian government shares our own view of Hamas as a terrorist group whose influence and military capabilities must be fought. That alone is a reason for the United States to want Egypt, not Qatar or Turkey, to be central. It is also that Egypt has genuine national security interests at stake here because it is a neighbor to Gaza. Terrorist activities in Gaza and Sinai matter to Egypt in a way that they do not to Qatar or Turkey. Any agreement that improves Hamas’s chances of importing more weaponry harms Egypt’s security, and the Egyptians have a right to a say in this.
The term “cease-fire” is important because it means that the fighting should stop, now, without giving Hamas the gains it seeks for its murderous actions. Hamas does not want a cease-fire, but rather all sorts of gains to its economic and political situation. It wants its men released from Israeli prisons, passages from Gaza to Egypt and Israel opened, limits on its political activities in the West Bank ended, a larger fishing zone, and other advantages. Obviously Israel will oppose giving Hamas such gains, and so will Egypt, and it seems likely that Qatar and Turkey will favor giving Hamas what it seeks.
It is worth examining whether the movement of people and goods in and out of Gaza can be improved–in a way that does not permit Hamas to move its fighters and terrorists more easily nor import weaponry. That would require a Palestinian Authority role in the passages, which would be a good thing for Gazans and a bad one for Hamas, and also require Egyptian and Israeli roles. It may be impossible to work out, and previous efforts have failed. The United States tried to work this out in 2005, after Israel left Gaza, by negotiating what we called the “Agreement on Movement and Access.” It set forth elaborate rules and procedures on how trucks and people could move, be inspected, and so on–but it was a dead letter from the start. The main problem is, of course, Hamas’s obvious desire to keep smuggling terrorists and weapons in and out, and Israel’s (and now Egypt’s) need to ensure that this does not occur. Still, goods and people do move in and out of Gaza every day, so it’s worthwhile seeing if the procedures can be safely improved–and safely means without giving Hamas any role or improving its smuggling opportunities.
Nor should any changes be agreed in a way that allows Hamas to take credit. They should come a bit after the cease-fire, and be credited to Israel, Egypt, and the PA. The best thing Secretary Kerry can do this weekend is tell Qatar and Turkey that the United States supports Israel and Egypt, and we want a quick, plain, and simple cease-fire–with no gains for Hamas. The terrorist group cannot be permitted to improve its situation by putting millions of Palestinians and Israelis at risk, hiding behind mosques and hospitals and schools, shooting thousands of rockets at civilians, and causing day after day of death and destruction.