Zvi Barel
January 4, 2009 - 1:00am

The intensification of the military operation in Gaza has not yet led to a similar increase in the Arab states' diplomatic efforts. A lasting diplomatic solution to the Gaza situation demands more than an agreement between Hamas and Israel - it demands pan-Arab reconciliation.

Turkish Prime Recep Tayyip Erdogan's shuttle diplomacy took him to Saudi Arabia on Sunday, and it seems he is now coming to understand the tremendous weight of the mission he has taken upon himself.

The opening of the Rafah crossing between Egypt and Gaza is a vital condition for a cease-fire, but Cairo fears letting Hamas control the crossing will bring it Arab and international recognition, while Cairo will be left responsible for the Strip.

For its part, Syria is striving to obtain Hamas recognition that would grant it and Iran positions of influence in any future diplomatic process.

Saudi Arabia has adopted the Egyptian stance, which sees Hamas as the primary culprit for the current situation, and both countries have a double account to settle - with Hamas, for not adhering to the provisions of the 2007 Mecca Agreement, intended to end the group's feud with Fatah, and for sabotaging the planned November summit in Cairo; and with Syria for torpedoing talks between the rival groups.

The result is that for now, Saudi Arabia and Egypt are opposing a special Arab League summit to discuss the Gaza crisis, as such a meeting would likely obligate Egypt to open the Rafah crossing, thus releasing Israel from its responsibility over the situation in the Strip, Egyptian leaders fear.

Cairo is still trying to convince Hamas to accept its proposal's most basic criteria, which call for placing a small number of Palestinian Authority monitors at the Rafah crossing, so that European Union monitors, whose presence is conditioned on that of their Palestinian colleagues, will agree to come, too.

Such a move would open the crossing, and free Egypt from responsibility for events in Gaza, and from Arab pressure that it open the crossing. Hamas, advised by Syria and Iran, has until now rejected the Egyptian proposal, and is demanding all crossings to Gaza be opened as an essential condition to any cease-fire.

In order to overcome the inter-Arab crisis, Turkey is trying to push its own two-stage plan. The first stage involves both sides holding their fire, and an international peacekeeping force placed at the Israel-Gaza border modeled after the UNIFIL force in southern Lebanon. Turkey is offering its own forces for the job. If the cease-fire holds, the second stage can go into effect, in which Turkey mediates between Saudi Arabia, Syria and Egypt to draft an Arab agreement for reconciling Hamas and Fatah, after which Palestinian elections may be held.

In the meantime, the Turkish proposal seems like a distant vision that can offer no immediate solution to the fighting.


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