Pragmatism in Sinai

Stories are here and here.

In short, the Muslim Brotherhood Egypt, Hamas and Israel are implicitly recognizing their common interests in Sinai by controlling Jihadist factions there. For example, Hamas found the Muslim Brotherhood surprisingly critical of any way in which Hamas might embroil Egypt in hostilities with Israel, as well as forcefully insistent on Hamas’ responsibility in restricting Salafists’ movements into Sinai. Subsequently Hamas itself, in particular after Israel’s operation Pillar of Defense, has been surprisingly focused on preserving quiet on its border with israel, and reforming itself into an internationally accepted political force. In all, there are three main lessons here.

1) In today’s chaotic climate in the Middle East, pragmatism comes with a huge premium. As such, relatively moderate and nationally-oriented Islamist forces such as Egypt’s Muslim Brotherhood have a lot to gain in international support by emphasizing their cooperative and moderate streaks, and equally much to lose by consorting with international Jihadists.

2) In the same way, Israel holds a much-overlooked position in the Middle East. Sure it is true that Israel’s West Bank policy is problematic, and Israel’s allies are insistent on some progress towards a solution. At the same time, while EU reports call for a stricter line with respect to Israel, in reality the sheer Western orientation and relative rationality of the Jewish state makes it an essential partner in the current situation. As the piece-meal cooperation with Egypt and Hamas shows, this is even true to some degree for the Arab states of the Middle East. In a process which began with Gulf State support for Israel during the 2006 war with Lebanon, more and more Arab states seek informal affiliations with Israel in order to establish themselves as moderate. This is evident from King Abdullah of Jordan’s improved relations with Netanyahu to Bahrein’s listing of Hezbollah as a terrorist organization. To this extent, Israel is — though certainly there is a long way to go — coming to be seen by some in the region as a potential asset and ally, rather than an intrusion to be uprooted.

3) Hamas’ main current goal is domination of the Palestinian Authority, rather than serving as its main violent opponent. While this drives Hamas to adopt more moderate stances, it drives Fatah even more in the arms of the West as the basis for its position of power. It also spells trouble for the nascent peace process: on the one hand Fatah will need to reach some sort of agreement with Hamas in order not to squander public support, while on the other hand any prospect of Hamas control over the West Bank will be sure to push Israel away from any possible disengagement.

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