The Palestinian cause was high on the agenda of the meeting in Cairo last week between President Abdel-Fattah Al-Sisi, Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas and Jordan’s King Abdullah II.
The summit followed a meeting between Abbas and Israeli Defence Minister Benny Gantz and ahead of an expected visit by Israeli Prime Minister Naftali Bennett to Cairo to meet with Al-Sisi.
After the three-way summit, Al-Sisi spoke with Israeli counterpart Isaac Herzog, with both agreeing on the need to boost efforts to revive the peace talks between the Palestinians and Israelis.
Wassel Abu Youssef, a member of the Palestinian Liberation Organisation (PLO) Executive Committee, told Al-Ahram Weekly that the Egyptian-Jordanian-Palestinian summit sent a strong message about the need to create a Palestinian state within the 1967 borders with Occupied East Jerusalem as its capital.
“The Palestinians rely on their strong partnership with Egypt and Jordan in the conflict with Israel,” Abu Youssef said. “I believe formulating a joint stance is very important.” He said that problems had come as a result of Israel’s intransigence, as seen in Bennett’s statements about a future Palestinian state and his adamant refusal of it before meeting with US President Joe Biden at the end of August.
The timing of the three-way summit was critical, Abu Youssef said, as it was taking place ahead of the UN General Assembly meeting and the Arab Summit meeting scheduled in Algeria later this autumn.
This confirms the Arab readiness, led by Egypt, to formulate a unified position to work on resolving the Palestinian cause. Abu Youssef said that the three-way summit went beyond previous “cosmetic solutions” that has failed to meet the aspirations of the Palestinian people to end the occupation and create an independent Palestinian state.
Political analysts agree that Egypt is the most politically and diplomatically competent power to play a prominent role in reviving the peace process between the Palestinians and Israelis. Egyptian diplomacy is influential due to its work in resolving many crises in the region and mediating between the Palestinians and Israel.
The analysts add that Egypt’s role is further bolstered by an Arab consensus and by Washington’s acceptance and support of Cairo’s efforts as it pursues mediation between the two sides on complex issues. These include a truce between the Gaza Strip and Israel, a prisoner-exchange deal between Hamas and Israel, and sponsoring talks on reconciliation between Fatah and Hamas.
Tayseer Mohaysen, a Palestinian political analyst, said Egypt had sucessfully restored its regional role, especially after the summit meetings in Iraq and Sharm El-Sheikh. “Egypt has a historic, pivotal and fundamental role to play in the issues of the nation,” he told the Weekly. “I believe Egyptian action, whether in Iraq, with Jordan or with the Palestinian leadership and other countries, will coalesce in a strong position in front of Israel, forcing it to return to direct negotiations, or at least to end its repeated assaults on the Palestinians.”
“Despite doubts about Israel’s intentions, Egypt’s efforts make the entire world responsible for achieving peace in the region, especially if the Arabs adopt a stance that calls for achieving a comprehensive, permanent and just peace for the Palestinian cause. Egypt’s position is a booster to resolve the situation on the ground.”
Iyad Jooda, a Palestinian political analyst, believes Egypt through its political and influential position can achieve breakthroughs on several issues, both Arab and Palestinian.
Talking to the Weekly, Jooda said that “Egypt’s achievements, with its strategic relationship with Jordan on several issues, including bringing Iraq back to the Arab fold, strongly reflects the Palestinian condition. What distinguishes the Egyptian role and qualifies it to lead efforts to revive the peace process is that it is not reactive. Egypt operates according to a clear political strategy that is based on the need to achieve peace according to international legitimacy and international law. This empowers Egypt and allows it to be in a position to bring the parties together.”
He noted that complaints by players about difficulties obstructing the progress of Egyptian efforts to revive the peace process had nothing to do with Egypt’s influence. He stressed that the obstacles were mostly due to Israel.
“Clearly, the Israelis are not ready for a genuinely strategic process due to the circumstances of the incumbent Israeli government,” Jooda said. If a member of this cabinet resigns, the government will collapse in favour of the radical right, he said, including the Likud Party which is waiting in the wings.
Jooda said that the Palestinians should not rely on the Israeli position, especially since the incumbent government is fragile and could crumble at any moment. At the same time, however, he believes that Egyptian moves rightly put the responsibility for the Palestinian cause on the shoulders of the world and the Quartet of Egypt, Jordan, Germany and France in coordination with the United States and other parties.
Domestic Palestinian issues were part of the obstacles to formulating a genuine peace process. “Palestinian divisions are not conducive to formulating a single Palestinian vision or mobilising the masses behind major issues,” he said.
He explained that Cairo understood this well and was continuing its efforts to end Palestinian divisions and achieve reconciliation, voiding Israel’s claim that there is no unified Palestinian partner to deal with. The PA does not control the Gaza Strip, where power is in the hands of Hamas, a group that rejects the peace process with Israel.
Egypt has coordinated with Qatar to transfer financial aid from Doha to the Gaza Strip via the PA in a bid to maintain official Palestinian representation in the Strip. It frequently states that the reconstruction of the Gaza Strip should proceed through official PA channels and in coordination with Hamas, in order to guarantee the broadest presence of the PA in Gaza.
Despite obstacles that await attempts to revive the peace process in the Middle East due to the myriad of regional circumstances, the Palestinians on the official and popular levels are counting on Egypt’s diplomacy to lay the foundations for the road back to peace.
*A version of this article appears in print in the 9 September, 2021 edition of Al-Ahram Weekly.