Gaza ceasefire a critical moment for US

Egypt-brokered ceasefire between Hamas and Israel poses new test for US diplomatic presence in region.

The ceasefire between Hamas and Israel is now in effect. In Washington speak, the agreement is being hailed as an important “first step” toward “de-escalating” tensions and working toward a more “durable” solution for peace.

That more durable solution has, so far, not included any specifics on how the siege on Gaza might be lifted – only that the blockade is to be eased.

Still, this agreement is significant. Not only does it hopefully bring an end to the conflict of the past eight days, which resulted in the deaths of more than 160 Palestinians and at least five Israelis, but it also signals a new chapter of diplomacy in the region.

The ceasefire is, in essence, an agreement accepted by Israel and brokered by the US with a largely untested Egyptian government on the issue of foreign policy. This is a unique partnership in a post Arab Spring reality. The efforts of Mohamed Morsi, the Egyptian president, in bringing about this agreement, have most certainly raised his standing as a partner and ally for a nervous Washington.

Until now, it viewed the leader with uncertainty. Much of Washington has wondered both aloud and in private, following the ousting of President Hosni Mubarak and the subsequent democratic elections which resulted in Morsi’s presidency, whether the US could continue to rely on Egypt as a partner.

Morsi’s diplomatic efforts to bring about a ceasefire seem to have reaffirmed Egypt’s role as a key regional broker. That, in turn, renews the opportunity for closer engagement with the Obama White House as it works toward what it calls a “lasting” two-state solution where Israelis and Palestinians can live side by side in peace and security.

This ceasefire, however, is even more striking, given that the agreement, brokered by the US, involved Hamas, a group the US has no direct diplomatic relations with and has labeled a “terrorist” organisation. Never mind the fact that Hamas, which controls Gaza, was democratically elected in the 2006 Palestinian legislative elections.

The US and its international partners had tried to isolate Hamas, following those elections, in an attempt to sideline the organisation. This new agreement signals that the opposite now appears to have occurred. If anything, the standing of Hamas has, at least for now, been lifted.

Announcing the ceasefire agreement in Cairo with Mohammed Kamel Amr, Egypt’s foreign minister, US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton said: “This is a critical moment for the region.”

By all appearances, it is also a critical moment for the United States.

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