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Cairo Negotiations… Why Are the Mediators Optimistic? - By Nabil Amr, Asharq Al-Awsat

 

 

 Optimism regarding the likelihood of a truce and hostage exchange deal, through the ongoing talks in Cairo, is on the rise. This optimism has not been sprung by dramatic Israeli initiatives or flagrant concessions by Hamas. Rather, a deal seems more likely because the Egyptians, Qataris, and Americans are applying pressure more effectively, with each party pushing the side they "can count on" as they strive to prevent this latest attempt from collapsing and avert a dead end. Indeed, this is particularly crucial now, the region has been on shaky ground since Israel attacked the Iranian consulate in Damascus and Tehran threatened retaliation.

No actor can make as much of a tangible impact as the Americans. US pressure has made Israel more flexible, reduced the intensity of its campaign, delayed its invasion of Rafah, and increased the quantity of aid entering Gaza by land and sea. The same cannot be said for the joint Egyptian-Qatari stance, it is not the same as that of the US. The two Arab states are both calling for a comprehensive and permanent ceasefire, as well as insisting that Israel withdraw from Gaza, and that everyone who has been displaced be allowed to return, starting now, to their places of residence, even if most of them have been destroyed.

It is worth noting, after months of failed negotiations between Paris, Cairo, Doha, and Washington, that the mediators are part of the game, though the extent of each side's direct involvement varies. Each party has its own agenda and strives to achieve its objectives, or some of them.

The US needs the talks to succeed in order to reduce the dangerous tensions in the region, especially since the Biden administration knows that the crucial presidential election is not far off. The Qataris, who manage an almost monopolistic relationship with Hamas, consider these negotiations a test of their effectiveness and influence. This is a perilous situation for the region and the world, and the Qataris want to succeed in order to affirm their role and influence.

As for Egypt, it is tied to the conflict more directly than any of the other mediators, as the war is raging on its borders. While Rafah and the Philadelphi Corridor are currently the most sensitive locations, Gaza is a major national security issue for Egypt, however one looks at it. This has not been the case only since the current war broke out; it is a historical and strategic fact and it will never change.

The rising optimism, despite the talks not having been officially finalized, also reflects the fact that the mediators know better than anyone else how important it is that they succeed. They are not neutral actors performing a technical role but essential players. Success is crucial, as any deal has implications for what comes next, and what comes next inevitably concerns everyone.

A six-week ceasefire would allow for addressing all parties' concerns regarding the day after, which has yet to take shape. This has been relevant since the Americans realized that achieving decisive outcomes on the ground, what Netanyahu calls "total victory," is impossible. This realization has pushed the Americans to escalate and play a more active and visible role in determining the outcome of the war, by becoming directly and decisively involved in preparing for what comes next.

More complex than everything that has happened over the past six months- and this will remain the case until the war ends- is laying the groundwork for what comes next. The Americans have talked a lot about this but in vague terms. They have put forward trial proposals that go as far as promising to end with a two-state solution to put out fires flaring across the region. These questions do not only have implications for Gaza but the entire region as well.

A list of the flashpoints in the region and the agendas of each arena or party involved, along with what they could be offered to meet their needs (needs that were urgent before the Gaza war and remain so afterward) allows us to understand the challenges of the day after. From here, the prospects of success in the current round of talks in Cairo seem like the first station of the post-war era.

This is the foundation upon which a new phase of conflicts or agreements in the Middle East will be built. It is ironic that Gaza (more seriously than ever before) could become the launching pad for what lies ahead for the entire region.

 

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