Steve Inskeep talks with Robert Malley of the International Crisis Group about how the ceasefire agreement between Israel and Hamas addresses short and long term, goals on both sides. Malley is program director for the Middle East and North Africa.
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STEVE INSKEEP, HOST:
Now let's look more closely at that deal that Morsi helped to broker between Israel and Hamas. Robert Malley analyzes the region for the International Crisis Group and he's in our studios. Welcome back to the program, sir.
ROBERT MALLEY: Thanks for having me.
INSKEEP: You've written a paper here on Israel and Hamas, and on this ceasefire and you described this whole pattern of violence - Israel striking at Hamas in what it says is self-defense for rocket attacks - as a tragic movie watched several times too many. Which must be the way that a lot of people felt about this, but what, if anything, was new here?
MALLEY: Well, you know, the war was an old war in the civil - and the ceasefire is an old ceasefire. What's new is that the battleground and the landscape in which the ceasefire is taking place. What's new is that this is the first time that Israel and Hamas have fought each other post-Arab uprisings, first time since Egypt has been ruled by the Muslim Brotherhood, first time that both Israel and the United States have to deal, diplomatically, with this new Egyptian president, this Islamist president with whom we've had historically bad relations. And the test was to see how it will all pan out.
INSKEEP: We should mention, Egypt's former ruler Hosni Mubarak was no friend of Hamas. Mohamed Morsi, the new president, is a member of a political party that's very closely linked with Hamas.
MALLEY: More than closely linked. It's the parent organization of Hamas.
INSKEEP: So did the Brotherhood's president end up being an ally of Hamas in this case?
MALLEY: Well, yes and no. I mean, there were some differences. Hamas felt that it could count on Egypt in a way that it couldn't count on Egypt before. It felt that, or it feels now that Egypt is going to be more of an honest broker in judging the ceasefire, perhaps will do more to open up Gaza, which is one of the causes in the agreement. But in other ways, it wasn't all that different.
If you look at the toolbox that President Morsi used, it was similar to the one that President Mubarak would have used and did use in the past, rhetorical condemnation, stated solidarity with the Palestinians, back-room dealings to try to reach a ceasefire and reliance on the United States as the partner in trying to bring this about.
So some would say it was Mubarak, but with a much more fiery rhetoric and ultimately, and this is a test, with a greater sense of what the Palestinians want.
INSKEEP: Were you surprised, at all, that Mohamed Morsi was constructive enough that President Obama effusively praised him for his role in ending this crisis?
MALLEY: Not really. And you know, what we just heard in terms of the news on Egypt tells us what President Morsi and the Muslim Brotherhood's priority is right now. It's domestic. It's consolidating power at home. And if they have to pay a price in terms of good relations with the U.S. in order to get the financial aid they need in order not to rock the boat, in order to keep things stable, they'll do that.
And so I think one would have expected that President Morsi acted more or less the way he did.
INSKEEP: Wait a minute. Are you saying that Morsi, as the president of Egypt, would do what the United States wants when it comes to Israeli/Palestinian conflict in order to keep the U.S. off his back, and that the United States, he's hoping anyway, will sort of ignore this elimination of democracy locally?
MALLEY: I don't know if he thought it exactly that way, but if you look at the pieces and the timing, it does suggest that for the Muslim Brotherhood and for its president, the president of Egypt today, what matters is to make sure they could remain in power and that they could implement their project. And I think they know, and if you speak to them, they know that that means at least for now, you cannot afford to alienate the United States. You can't afford to alienate Europe. You can't afford to jeopardize the massive financial aid that the country needs.
INSKEEP: Does that mean the United States has as much influence as it ever did in the region?
MALLEY: No. I think it means - I mean, this is not a matter of influence. This is a matter of people making short-term calculations. I think we've seen that the U.S. has some influence. The ceasefire probably would not have been able to take place without it. But it also has a very limited influence in many other degrees, in terms of what's happening in Egypt today and in terms of what happened, even the war itself and we could go down the list of places where we could see an influence that remains, but it's still eroding day by day.
INSKEEP: Let me ask about the Israelis and Palestinians, Rob Malley. You mention this is a very familiar pattern - the Israelis striking into Gaza, saying it's self defense because of the rockets that were being fired into Israel. Does either side feel that it's gaining anything by a conflict like this?
MALLEY: You know, if you look at it and the elements of the conflict and, again, the elements of the ceasefire, it is so reminiscent of everything we've seen in the past. I mean, the only lesson that seems to come out of the Middle East are the lessons that people don't learn. After the war in 2008, 2009, one could have said what's needed is normalization of the economic situation in Gaza, better guarantees for Israel about weapons smuggling, and a ceasefire.
And that's exactly what, this time, the Egyptians say they've come up with. So the question is not really, you know, are these new elements? The question is are they going to be implemented this time, and if they're not implemented, is it going to give rise to a new conflagration or can Egypt step in and make sure that the parties act in a different way?
Because we - there's no secret here, there's no secret - there's no secret either, why the two parties came back to this. After 2008, 2009, they said the next war was just around the corner. We've just seen that corner.
INSKEEP: Okay. Rob, thanks very much for coming in.
MALLEY: Thank you.
INSKEEP: Rob Malley studies the Middle East for the International Crisis Group, and you're hearing him right here on MORNING EDITION from NPR News. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.