Column: The Middle East powder-keg

Anyone who has ever walked across thin ice can attest to how fragile it is, and how terrifying watching the ice splinter around your feet as you walk across can be, because everyone knows that it could break at any moment.

Israel, Hamas - the Palestinian political and military group in control of the Gaza Strip - and the rest of the Middle East are walking on thin ice, and at any moment the cease fire and everything else could shatter.

To say that Israel and Hamas don’t get along is an understatement. They hate each other. The animosity started over 2,700 years when Moses led the Hebrew people out of captivity back to the “Promised Land.” They came back to a land already populated by Palestinians.

In 1948, the UN declared the territory then known as Palestine two independent countries: Israel and Palestine. This was to make home for a large number of displaced Jews after the Holocaust. Arab leaders disputed the declaration and attempted to unite the region into one unified Arab Palestine. They lost, and after the fighting ended, Israel controlled even more land than it had previously. These years of resentment and miscommunication have fueled that hatred and have sparked tensions and political division in the region.

This leaves nearby Egypt in a precarious position. Egypt helped broker an unstable ceasefire that brought Israel’s and Hamas’ mini-war to a standstill. Yet, in order to help negotiate the ceasefire, Egyptian President Mohammed Morsi signed a presidential edict that gave him unchecked authority, and that’s a problem.

Egypt is already bitterly divided after six decades of dictatorial oppression from Morsi’s predecessors, Hosni Mubarak, Anwar al-Sadat and Gamal Nasser. By seizing control, Morsi did help alleviate the tensions in Israel and Gaza, but he only further enraged his critics and left his supporters fearful of a return of a dictator. This puts the Obama administration in a difficult situation as well.

Morsi’s recent grab at power could possibly foreshadow a return to autocracy. This marks a crucial moment in U.S. foreign policy. President Morsi was democratically elected, but if he continues to abuse his position and attain more power, what is the U.S. to do? President Barack Obama faces the same situation many of his predecessors have struggled with over the past 40 years: If he does nothing and turns a blind eye to poverty and oppression, the revolution in Egypt will have meant nothing, and the cycle will continue.

Yet, regardless of Morsi’s power grab, it is Egypt that could bring peace first to Israel, then to the Arab world. That is, if Morsi remains an elected leader rather than an oppressive one. The likelihood of the Muslim Brotherhood, the party that backs Morsi’s presidency, engaging in peace talks with Israelis is unlikely. The Muslim Brotherhood supports a return to conservative Muslim values that are antithetical to Israel’s religious freedoms, political pluralism and feminism. So it seems as if the death grip between Israel and Hamas will remain.

Even with all of this going on, Iran still lurks in the shadow, and this poses an even greater threat. Instead of accepting and recognizing Israel in exchange for open borders, Hamas has decided to forgo the opportunity and instead keep borders closed and start smuggling in rockets. Iran is supplying these rockets through tunnels originating in Egypt. It’s an interesting turn of events. Egypt may want to remain out of the conflict, but it seems as if they are being pulled into it anyway.

The tension in the Middle East is palpable. With so many conflicts and clashing agendas, it’s no wonder the world is on edge. The Israeli-Palestine dispute, Egypt’s democracy, Iran’s nuclear buildup and U.S.-Israel-Arab conflict are now all interconnected.

What the Middle East and the West need to focus on is providing adept and strong leadership to defuse the tension, isolate Iran and provide peaceful solutions. Egypt needs to remain strong and democratic, Israel needs to be patient, Hamas needs to recognize Israel’s existence and Iran needs to be contained. Weak leadership and apathy will only intensify the problems that have been around for centuries. Because it only takes one misstep to break thin ice.

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