Zvi Barel
Haaretz (Opinion)
December 31, 2008 - 1:00am

President Hosni Mubarak could not keep silent any longer about the attack on Egypt in the press. His decision to explicitly state Egypt's position that the West Bank and Gaza are part of the same country, and that the Rafah crossing will open only under the conditions of the 2005 agreement (to which Egypt is not a signatory), is part of the public diplomacy Mubarak has been dragged into against his will.

Mubarak would have preferred for Hamas to appeal to him directly for a cease-fire, which Egypt would negotiate with Israel. But Hamas, like Hezbollah, chose a different and probably more effective path.

Hamas, by enlisting public opinion through the Arab media, holding street demonstrations and creating public pressure, may very well achieve a cease-fire without being forced to ask for it.

Hamas has experience in winning public support, as it learned last January when it broke through the border fence with Egypt. Egypt was forced to give in to public pressure and let the hundreds of thousands of Palestinians cross the border and buy goods on the Egyptian side.

The knowledge that Arab public opinion, as opposed to the Arab regimes that speak with several different voices, may influence policy is new.

In a region known for not paying attention to public opinion, or where public opinion is dictated by the regimes, an appeal to the masses has usually been viewed as an act of desperation, not policy.

Hamas can rack up its first victory for its methods as several European countries are already talking about a "humanitarian" cease-fire, and Egypt has been fixed in the public eye as a collaborator with Israel. This will make it hard for Egypt to act as a mediator between Hamas and Israel, and the war in Gaza will require international involvement and certainly active Syrian involvement to end the hostilities.

In that way Gaza goes from being a local dispute between Israel and Hamas to the status of half a state with the same status as Israel, so hopes Hamas.

Such a step could never have come off through regular diplomatic channels, where Hamas would have appealed to Egypt or some other mediator, but only by enlisting the masses in the region and by bypassing the Palestinian Authority, which is not functioning during this crisis.

Mubarak's efforts in his speech on Tuesday to relink the West Bank and Gaza and place Gaza again under the PA's authority says something about the diplomatic battlefield. A separate cease-fire with Gaza under Arab and international pressure may be interpreted as a recognition of the separation between Gaza and the West Bank - and recognition of the Hamas government. This will place Gaza under the diplomatic auspices of Iran and Syria, on the border with Egypt.


American Task Force on Palestine - 1634 Eye St. NW, Suite 725, Washington DC 20006 - Telephone: 202-262-0017