Tuesday, January 07, 2003

The recent double suicide bombing in Tel Aviv has overshadowed an interesting related development taking place next door in Egypt. According to the Jerusalem Post, President Mubarak has delivered an ultimatum to Hamas, demanding that it accept an Egyptian proposal for a ceasefire with Israel, or else be branded an "enemy of peace". The Egyptians for some time have been trying to broker a ceasefire deal between Israel and the combined Palestinian factions (they claim to have the PFLP and DFLP aboard already); however, they appear of late to be pressing their initiative with unexpected urgency. An obvious motivation is their desire to establish some kind of stability in the Israeli-Palestinian conflict before the US attacks Iraq, thus defusing anticipated domestic protests that the Egyptian government's (at least mildly) pro-US stance amounts to a "sellout" of the Palestinians.

If correct, this interpretation of events directly contradicts the argument raised by opponents of military action in Iraq (most notably Brent Scowcroft) that the Israeli-Palestinian dispute should be given priority over the Iraq issue. Scowcroft, among others, warned that dealing immediately with the problem of Saddam Hussein would be perceived as neglecting the Palestinian problem, and would thus inflame anti-American outrage throughout the Arab world. In fact, Scowcroft et al. got it exactly backwards: by forcing a confrontation with Iraq, the US appears to have improved prospects for progress on the Israeli-Palestinian front as well.

Many predicted, of course, that the departure of the Iraqi leader from the scene might, by eliminating an enthusiastic regional troublemaker, set the stage for a reduction in hostilities between Israel and the Palestinians. How many, though, anticipated such an effect from the mere possibility of an impending American attack against him?

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