IE 11 is not supported. For an optimal experience visit our site on another browser.

Despite troubles at home, Egypt's Morsi is pivotal player in Mideast

CAIRO — It was no Black Friday in Gaza, where the cease-fire was in effect for a second day.

There was some bloodshed — Israeli soldiers fired on Palestinian farmers who wandered into the prohibited 'buffer zone' near the border check on their farmland — but otherwise the first phase of the truce has worked.

Now the difficult part begins: Turning a halt in hostilities into a better future for Palestinians and Israelis.

In the near term, that will mean hard negotiations mediated by Egypt’s Islamist President Mohammed Morsi.

Israel insists on a stoppage of weapons smuggling through Gaza's Rafah border crossing with Egypt.

Hamas demands the lifting of the 6-year-old blockade of Gaza which some say has turned the strip into an "open prison".

Both sides this week agreed in principle to these concessions, but left the details for later. That could take a while, but what's different now is the presence of Morsi — backed by the United States — in the process.

Although facing widespread criticism at home, where he is accused of a constitutional power grab, Morsi is a formidable mediator having been endorsed as a key regional player by President Barack Obama and Secretary of State Hillary Clinton.

Egyptian protesters, police clash as Morsi defends wide new powers

He's the leader of an Arab state with influence over radical Palestinian groups like Hamas, seems determined to be a U.S. ally and seeks a civil, if more formal, relationship with Israel.

So, rather than locking horns, separating, and reloading to fight another day, Israel and Hamas will at least have someone they respect to complain to.

The hope is that, over time, negotiations and not rocket fire or airstrikes will become the new habit of "discourse" between enemies. That could be a pipe dream unless Morsi, the Mediator, becomes Morsi, the Enforcer, as well. Will he crack down on the smuggling? Destroy the tunnels? Or will he side with his "ideological cousins" inside Hamas?

It's too soon to say. For now, few on either side of the Gaza border doubt that this truce will be short lived. As Gazans celebrated the end of their immediate suffering, a poll showed that 70 percent of Israelis disagree with the truce. After generations of bloodshed and crisis, mistrust is deeply entrenched.

It is significant that Obama seems to believe that Morsi can be the "missing link" that moves that moribund peace process forward. On Wednesday, when he thanked the Egyptian president for his "commitment to regional security" following the announcement of the cease-fire, Obama added that he and Morsi agreed to work towards a "more durable solution" to the situation in Gaza.

Morsi may be just the partner with leverage over the Palestinians that Obama needs to try his hand at Middle East peace-making himself.

But first, Morsi will have to prove he can enforce a cease-fire as deftly as he brokered one.

More world stories from NBC News:

Follow World News from on Twitter and Facebook