Egypt is the key player in any peace deal

By Anshel Pfeffer, July 24, 2014
Mr Kerry meets Secretary-General of the Arab League, Nabil Elaraby during ceasefire talks

Mr Kerry meets Secretary-General of the Arab League, Nabil Elaraby during ceasefire talks

The Gaza conflict is playing out against a much wider regional power-play that could be changing the balance in the Middle East.

A struggle is going on for influence between Egypt, aligned with Saudi Arabia and most of the other Gulf States, and, on the other side, Qatar and Turkey.

The main difference between the previous round of fighting 20 months ago and this conflict is that the Egyptian president is now Abdel Fattah al-Sisi, until recently the commander of the army who wrested power from President Mohammed Morsi of the Muslim Brotherhood.

Mr Morsi, now awaiting trial, was much better positioned to negotiate with Hamas, a movement inspired by the Brotherhood, and succeeded in brokering a ceasefire within six days. The current regime has lambasted Hamas for working with the Brotherhood to undermine Egypt. But despite the enmity, Egypt is still the only viable negotiator. It's proposal, which was rejected by Hamas last week, remains an immediate ceasefire and a return to the agreement achieved in November 2012 and only then holding indirect talks between Hamas and Israel to try and work out new ways to open up the Gaza Strip.

Hamas, desperate to show some achievements to the Palestinian public, is demanding immediate concessions from Israel and using the channels of its remaining supporters in the region, Qatar and Turkey.

Israel and Egypt are rejecting any involvement by these two nations and have made it clear to the United States, which was in favour of trying the Qatari channel, that they will not agree to this under any circumstances.

Cairo sees Qatar as one of it main enemies, accusing the Emir of using his Doha-based Al Jazeera news channel to broadcast pro-Brotherhood propaganda. Israel's Foreign Minister Avigdor Lieberman also accused Qatar of supporting Hamas financially. Turkey has also disqualified itself in Israel's eyes due to the antisemitic remarks made by Prime Minister Reccep Tayip Erdogan.

Cairo remains the only address for a possible ceasefire, but it is hard to see how it will be achieved.

Last updated: 2:38pm, July 24 2014