Holding the fire

After eight days of fighting, the Egypt-brokered ceasefire between Israel and Hamas brings a much-needed respite to residents of the Gaza Strip and Israeli civilians. Although the ceasefire holds, for now, "respite" best describes the cessation of hostilities. The truce is tenuous and depends on how successfully Cairo, with Washington's encouragement, manages to keep the two sides committed to its terms. More importantly, the recent round of hostilities, aggravated by the killing of Hamas's military chief Ahmed Jabari, was also rooted in the deep schisms within the Palestinian polity. The West Bank, under a Palestinian Authority largely run by Mahmoud Abbas's Fatah, is politically cut off from Hamas-held Gaza, and within Gaza itself, Hamas has found itself increasingly cornered by more militant organisations, particularly the Salafists.

At the heart of the ceasefire is the role played by a post-Arab Spring Egypt trying to reclaim its old place in the Arab world, which it had lost under Hosni Mubarak. Egyptian President Mohammed Morsi has the advantage of distance from the US and the fact that, belonging to the Muslim Brotherhood to which Hamas is tied he enjoys legitimacy in the Egyptian population and Gaza residents. The Egypt-Israel peace accord is the bedrock of stability in the Middle East and Morsi, despite vocal support for Hamas, has demonstrated the kind of pragmatism that is needed to return a relative calm to the region.

India, as part of IBSA, has called for "maximum restraint", the resumption of direct talks and expressed support for Egypt's mediating role. But the old school of thought in Delhi, which still urges the external affairs ministry to reflexively weigh in on the Palestinian side, should do a reality check. The Middle East is changing rapidly. The Palestinian problem is no longer what it used to be, even in the eyes of the Arab world. Also, India's equations with Israel and the Palestinian cause have long become independent of each other. It is important now that India immediately re-engages with the new Egypt and offers support for Cairo's efforts at ensuring peace in a region immensely significant for global security and India's national interest.

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