Knocking at the wrong door

Egypt and Qatar can’t ‘deliver’ the Hamas leadership in Gaza

This week, US President Joe Biden called Egyptian President Abdelfattah as-Sisi and the emir of Qatar Sheikh Tamim bin-Hamad to press them to threaten Hamas and force it to agree to a ‘temporary’ cease-free to pause the war and exchange captives. Hamas did not reply directly, but hinted the proposal was unacceptable.

The exercise demonstrates the US president’s astonishing degree of ignorance about his two supposed Arab allies, and also about Hamas and the nature of its on-the-ground leadership in the Gaza Strip.

I have been closely following the ongoing negotiations in Doha and Cairo, the roles played by the mediators, and the way Hamas has been handling — and foiling — the plans that emerged from the earlier four-way meeting of intelligence chiefs in Paris.

Several points stand out.

First, Biden and his entourage seem incapable of understanding that it is the Hamas leadership in the Gaza Strip led by Yahya al-Sinwar that has the final say. They still think certain Arab rulers or former PLO leaders can decide matters on its behalf.

Secondly, the Egyptian and Qatari mediators have no means of putting pressure on the Sinwar’s leadership.

Egypt lost its strongest card — the Rafah crossing — by failing (not wanting or not being able) to open it for humanitarian aid over the past six months, and by opting for ‘neutrality’ regarding Israel.

Qatar and its emir also lost their only card, the $30 million in financial aid they used to provide monthly to Hamas in the Gaza Strip monthly, transferred via Tel Aviv with prior coordination.

Third, the amended US proposal is confined to the humanitarian needs of the Gaza population and offering temporary, not permanent, solutions, aimed at rescuing Israel. It does not address their legitimate demands for freedom, liberation, and a dignified life, but treats them as supplicant beggars.

Fourth, Hamas’ leaders in Gaza do not know the Arab world’s leaders, especially those who revolve in the US orbit, and do not want to make their acquaintance. They decided form the start to keep their distance from them, not trust them, and rely on themselves, with assistance and political support from the Axis of Resistance. Most of them have barely travelled outside the Gaza Strip, other than when being released from Israeli prisons back to their refugee camp homes.

Fifth, by contacting the Egyptian and Qatari rulers to demand they pressure Hamas into agreeing a temporary truce, Biden effectively conceded Israel’s defeat in the war. But he also demonstrated his inability to extract any meaningful concession from Netanyahu. He therefore turned his pressure on the Arab and Palestinian sides.

Sixth, Biden avoided calling for an immediate ceasefire or unconditional access for humanitarian aid for the past six months. The reasons he is now so keen on them is not out of sympathy for the suffering children of Gaza, but to prevent Iran retaliating for Israel’s airstrike on the Iranian consulate in Damascus. He knows a temporary cease-fire might avert or postpone such retaliation, which could expand the Gaza war into a region-wide war.

I hope Sinwar will reject the poisoned US prisoner exchange agreement that is on the table, and hold fast to his demands for a permanent ceasefire, withdrawal of Israeli forces, return of displaced people, and resumption of relief and reconstruction operations.

The US intelligence community, composed of 18 different agencies, conceded in its latest annual report that Israel would never be able to eradicate Hamas and would continue to face armed Palestinian resistance for many years to come.

Netanyahu’s repeated threats to invade Rafah will not make any difference. He may have succeeded in cowing and intimidating Arab leaders, but his methods won’t work with the leaders of the Palestinian resistance in Gaza.

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