CAIRO — As Secretary of State John F. Kerry arrived here Monday night to try to craft a cease-fire in the Gaza crisis as rapidly as possible, he confronted an uncomfortable reality.
The United States must rely heavily on Egypt, Qatar, and Turkey to play intermediary and exert their influence because it has no direct contact and little leverage with the militant group Hamas. Those countries, however, have their own deep-seated differences about Hamas. While Egypt has been opposed to Hamas and other Islamic movements, Turkey has been supportive. Qatar, for its part, has provided financial assistance to Hamas and also a base of operations for Khalid Meshal, the group’s political leader.
“It will be extremely difficult for the United States to bring Egypt, Turkey, and Qatar together right now,” said Robert M. Danin, a fellow at the Council on Foreign Relations and a former senior State Department official.
“However, all three countries do wish to see an end to the fighting,” Danin added. “Moreover, Egypt, Turkey, and Qatar all stand to benefit politically and in their regional standing by serving as power brokers to a cease-fire between Hamas and Israel.”
Kerry’s visit here comes after a successful effort to forge a compromise in Afghanistan that led to an agreement to an international audit of the ballots of a disputed election. And Kerry brought a similar sense of urgency to the Gaza crisis.
“We’ve got to get over there,” he said Sunday in an unguarded comment to an aide during a television interview when he thought his microphone was off. “Let’s go.”
Kerry, who plans to stay in Cairo until Wednesday morning and could travel to other Middle Eastern capitals after that, met with Ban Ki-moon, the UN secretary general, and announced $47 million in US humanitarian aid for Gaza.
On Tuesday, Kerry was scheduled to meet with Abdel-Fattah el-Sissi, the Egyptian president, and with its foreign minister, Sameh Shoukry, and Nabil Elaraby, the head of the Arab League.
“Our immediate goal is stop the fighting as quickly as possible,” said a senior State Department official, who asked not to be named, citing agency protocol on briefing reporters. The official added that the Obama administration hoped to end the combat before tackling more thorny and time-consuming issues about Gaza’s future and the security arrangement there.
Yet Hamas and Israel are each expected to add further demands.
“The military wing of Hamas is calling the shots now and will try to hold out to show they achieved something,” said Dennis B. Ross, a former top Middle East negotiator, adding that the group can be expected to insist on reopening the Rafah border crossing with Egypt, money from Qatar, and the release of some Hamas prisoners Israel has detained recently.
“Israel will want to hold out until they have destroyed a large number of the tunnels, making rebuilding difficult, and will seek to get Kerry to insist on the dismantling of the rocket infrastructure in return for rebuilding Gaza,” Ross added.
“Israel may not have a problem with money going to Hamas but will mightily resist the release of Hamas prisoners,” he said.