Today on Thanksgiving we have some things to be thankful for.
The cease-fire in Gaza is holding (so far). This is important not only to stop the killing, but also because it represents a breakthrough in the relationship between President Obama and President Morsy of Egypt. It shows that despite the change in leadership, the U.S. can work with leadership of Egypt toward peace in the region.
While the problems of a lasting settlement in Israel/Palestine are far greater than simply establishing a cease-fire, the fact that Morsy and Obama could achieve the latter by working together offers great hope of at least some progress on the former. Without Egypt, of course a settlement of the larger problems would not be possible.
Many feared that a new Islamist leader in Egypt would be unwilling to work with the U.S. and would support Palestinians to the exclusion of any agreements with the U.S. and Israel. That fear has now proved unfounded in the first instance of being tested.
The other area in which US/Egyptian cooperation will be crucial is Syria. If the U.S., Syria, and Turkey can agree on a course of action to support the opposition, Assad’s remaining days in power will definitely be numbered.
Still, it remains to be seen if Israel’s leadership will be flexible enough to take advantage of an Egyptian leadership (and Abbas’ leadership in Palestine) that is willing to work with the U.S. and seek agreements to establish a lasting and fair peace with the Palestinians. The cease-fire agreement was facilitated by the fact that neither Hamas nor Israel really wanted a land invasion of Gaza. So both were willing to give a bit to avoid that outcome.
The Palestinians now are clearly willing to give a bit to also obtain lasting independence. Israel too should be willing to give a bit to obtain lasting recognition of its sovereignty and borders. So perhaps there is room for a deal. Abbas has even signalled that the Palestinian’s right to return to former homes is something that can be negotiated; that is promising.
But Israel’s leadership had grown too comfortable with the idea that it could protect its borders and sovereignty by force indefinitely, and preferred a Palestine that was weak and divided and unable to effectively assert its rights. If we are truly fortunate, the new U.S.-Egyptian partnership will be able to convince Israelis that this is a less feasible road to long-term peace than a strong and independent Palestine that is committed to recognition of Israel’s sovereign rights.