For the moment everything is on hold in Palestine. In the West Bank, as well as the Gaza Strip, there is a tense wait to see how things unfold in Egypt. Reconciliation talks between Fatah and Hamas are at a virtual standstill. Negotiations between the Palestinian Authority (PA) and the Israeli government are also frozen, despite claims by the latter that they will restart soon. The only constant in the equation are the ongoing Israeli attacks on Gaza, an apparent overreach based on an expectancy that the soft coup in Egypt has been completed and the old order will be restored.
To many Palestinians, this is the worst case scenario, that it will revive Egypt’s collaboration with Israel and lead to a reinforcement of the Gaza siege. These misgivings have been more or less shaped by the perception that Ahmad Shafiq was one of the staunchest supporters of Israel within the discredited Mubarak inner circle.
Nevertheless, even with his colourful background, Shafiq has his supporters in Palestine. In Ramallah, PA officials are on record as saying that they have nothing to fear from a Morsi presidency. That does not however disguise the fact that they would be more comfortable with Shafiq since he is more likely to continue with the policies pursued by Mubarak.
In the case of Mohamed Morsi, his Palestinian supporters claim that a victory for him would reduce the huge pressure exerted by Mubarak on the PA to make concessions to Israel and accommodate its degrading policies.
In the now unlikely event that the Egyptian military accepts a Morsi win, this does not mean that the future will be plain sailing. He would encounter an array of obstacles from all quarters, especially from those averse to the Muslim Brotherhood. The unofficial results show clearly that many Egyptians remain wary because the movement failed to keep certain promises, principally not to contest the presidency.
Regionally and internationally, Morsi would also encounter a legion of detractors. They would not attempt to isolate him diplomatically and politically as they have done with Hamas, but nor would they be likely to make his mission easy.
In this light, it is not an exaggeration to say that the result of the presidential elections is as closely monitored in Palestine as it is in Egypt. It is, after all, Palestine’s largest neighbour and Palestinians yearn for the day when it will resume its natural historic role of supporting their cause.
Whatever the outcome, the destinies of the two countries remain inseparable. Even with all the constraints and obstacles foisted by the military, Morsi cannot ignore Palestine. This does not mean, however, that Egypt would embark on military adventures or be drawn into a military confrontation with Israel. He needs a long period of stability to put Egypt’s own house in order first.
Generally speaking, Palestinians stand to benefit from a stable and supportive government in Cairo. Regional analysts note that they must, therefore, eschew any confrontation that would give the military an excuse to abort the democratic transition (as if it actually needs excuses).
It is clear from its escalation of attacks on Gaza that Israel is trying to create such a climate of confusion. Thus far it has succeeded to draw resistance factions, including Hamas, into a confrontation. The government in Gaza declared that it can no longer stand idle while civilians are being killed daily by Israeli bombs and missiles.
To the same degree that the Islamic Resistance Movement in Gaza is required to deliver, so too must the Ramallah authority recognise that the era of one-party domination is over. Within the League of Arab States, there is now an acceptance that it has to reflect the changes and aspirations of the people. The presence of new actors within the organisation will change its agenda and priorities. This means that President Mahmoud Abbas would not be able to get the automatic endorsement of policies and decisions that are advantageous to Israel at the expense of Palestinian interests. The challenge for him, therefore, is to choose between the wishes of his foreign patrons, particularly in Washington, and the aspirations of the region’s people.
Meanwhile, the battle of wills between the Egyptian people and their military rulers is set to continue. Since the former are not being allowed to exercise their will through the ballot box they will do so on the streets and in the public squares.
Clearly, the army which enjoyed so much privilege and largesse in order to remain neutral on Palestine is not prepared to jeopardise its vested interests. The soft coup now underway represents the last desperate attempt to cling to power.
With no parliament, no constitution and a vicious contest for control of the executive between the presidency and the military, Egypt appears to be on a backward trajectory. Much of what is happening there may favour Israel in the short term. It may delay the achievement of the goals of the revolution. But they will not be able to deny the will of the people forever.
One thing is abundantly clear to all concerned. There is no turning back. Egyptians and Palestinians share a common aspiration; to start a new chapter in their history, one which respects the common will, guarantees their freedom and secures their national interests.