Morsi, a member of the Muslim Brotherhood, which opposed the 1979 peace treaty between Egypt and Israel, has been criticized by Palestinians for not opening up the Rafah crossing. He must deal with Hamas officials who want to rebuild their arms stockpile, including Iranian-made Fajr-5 missiles that showed they could reach Tel Aviv and Jerusalem.
Morsi’s claim at home last week that the judiciary could not overrule his proclamations has led to protests against the Egyptian leader. His international activities, critics say, have interfered with his domestic duties. Some also say his cease-fire work is a cover for his assumption of dictatorial powers.
President Obama faces a different dilemma. He depends on Morsi to carry out dealings with Hamas, which the United States has labeled a terrorist organization, although the White House is under pressure to take a strong stand against Morsi’s claim to extrajudicial powers. In addition, Obama’s indirect dealings with Hamas have undercut Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas, whom Washington has been building up. Yet the United States has opposed Abbas’s primary diplomatic initiative, a U.N. General Assembly resolution that would have a Palestinian land recognized as a U.N. non-member, observer state.
Abbas is the last leader in this unusual quintet. In the wake of the Gaza cease-fire, he has lost standing within the West Bank and internationally in the internal battle over Palestinian leadership. The question is whether he will regain some stature this week when the U.N. vote is scheduled. The expected approval would be a step toward statehood, as well as a gesture toward the 1967 borders and an opportunity for the Palestinians to join U.N. organizations.
On Monday, in a surprise move, Hamas reversed course and announced support for the Abbas proposal. This change came out of a phone call between Abbas and Khaled Meshal, the Hamas political chief, who is in exile in Damascus. Whether this means the two Palestinian leaders will reconcile may be determined soon. Meshal intends to visit Gaza on Dec. 5, and Abbas told a West Bank audience on Sunday that he wants to work on unity efforts.
Each leader will face domestic opposition if he reaches compromises unacceptable to some of his constituents. If the leaders fail and fighting resumes, the results could be much worse than the eight days of rockets, missiles and bombs that left hundreds dead or wounded.
After 64 years, people on the ground, Arab and Israeli, deserve a peaceful resolution.
For previous Fine Print columns, go to washingtonpost.com/fedpage.