The New York Times reports on ceasefire negotiations being brokered by the Egyptian government in Cairo. Israeli forces are poised to invade the Gaza Strip, yet in this report it is Hamas that is characterized as assuming an “aggressive stance” because it has the apparent audacity to be making some security demands — as though the only reasonable demand Hamas could make would be for Israel to suspend its current assault.
Hamas, badly outgunned on the battlefield, appeared to be trying in the talks to exploit its increased political clout with its ideological allies in Egypt’s new Islamist-led government. The group’s leaders, rejecting Israel’s call for an immediate end to the rocket attacks, have instead laid down sweeping demands that would put Hamas in a stronger position than when the conflict began: an end to Israel’s five-year-old embargo of the Gaza Strip, a pledge by Israel not to attack again and multinational guarantees that Israel would abide by its commitments.
Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu of Israel stuck to his demand that all rocket fire cease before the Israeli air campaign lets up, and Israeli tanks and troops remained lined up outside Gaza on Sunday. Tens of thousands of reserve troops had been called up. “The army is prepared to significantly expand the operation,” Mr. Netanyahu said at the start of a cabinet meeting.
Reda Fahmy, a member of Egypt’s upper house of Parliament and of the nation’s dominant Islamist party, who is following the talks, said Hamas’s position was just as unequivocal. “Hamas has one clear and specific demand: for the siege to be completely lifted from Gaza” he said. “It’s not reasonable that every now and then Israel decides to level Gaza to the ground, and then we decide to sit down and talk about it after it is done. On the Israeli part, they want to stop the missiles from one side. How is that?”
He added: “If they stop the aircraft from shooting, Hamas will then stop its missiles. But violence couldn’t be stopped from one side.”
Hamas’s aggressive stance in the cease-fire talks is the first test of the group’s belief that the Arab Spring and the rise in Islamist influence around the region have strengthened its political hand, both against Israel and against Hamas’s Palestinian rivals, who now control the West Bank with Western backing.
It also puts intense new pressure on President Mohamed Morsi of Egypt, a former leader of the Muslim Brotherhood who was known for his fiery speeches defending Hamas and denouncing Israel. Mr. Morsi must now balance the conflicting demands of an Egyptian public that is deeply sympathetic to Hamas and the Palestinian cause against Western pleadings to help broker a peace and Egypt’s urgent need for regional stability to help revive its moribund economy.