This week marks 75 years of the Nakba, or the Palestinian catastrophe, and the establishment of Israel on 14 May 1948. The Nakba began the day after, on 15 May, and has continued since. Seventy-five years ago, more than 700,000 Palestinians were terrorised into leaving their homes by organised Zionist militias who brutally attacked their towns and villages in a systematic campaign of ethnic cleansing and genocide. Zionist settler colonialism persists till this day, as Israel continues its dispossession and expulsion of Palestinians with impunity. Its latest war on the battered and besieged Gaza Strip is a reminder that little has changed since 1948.
Thousands of Israelis are expected to join the annual Israeli flag parade on Friday. Last year the march, which passes the Damascus Gate, acted as a catalyst for confrontations in the West Bank between Palestinians and Israeli occupation forces which left many Palestinians wounded and tens of civilians arrested.
Palestinians view the parade as a deliberate violation of Muslim sites in Jerusalem. During last week’s negotiations to secure a ceasefire between Israel and the Jihad Resistance Movement in Gaza, Egyptian mediators had tried to convince their Israeli counterparts to suspend or delay the parade to avoid a new wave of tensions.
“The ceasefire we reached was an attempt to ensure the situation in Gaza, which is already very bad, does not get worse,” said an informed Egyptian source after the ceasefire was announced on Saturday night following five days of Israeli attacks on Gaza that included the assassination of high-profile Jihad leaders and the destruction of houses. Jihad responded to the attacks with volleys of retaliatory rocket fire.
Egypt is trying to consolidate the ceasefire, said the same source. “It is not going to be an easy mediation given the radical positions adopted by the Israeli government.”
Cairo is hoping that the parade will pass without provocative acts that prompt a reaction from Palestinians “from the West Bank and Gaza”.
“We are keeping the communication channels open with all the parties and hope things will not explode again,” he said.
That the scheduled date of the parade coincides with the expected inauguration of the annual Arab summit in Saudi Arabia has caused apprehension in Arab quarters. An Arab diplomat said that Saudi Arabia is set to revive the 2002 Arab Peace Initiative during the summit, though in a format that will call on signatories of the Abraham Accords to make specific demands on Israel concerning its management of occupied East Jerusalem.
Officials in Cairo say recurring confrontations between Israeli occupation forces and Palestinians in the West Bank and Gaza are giving Egypt a permanent headache, not least along its 14 km eastern border with Gaza where security measures have been increased.
The situation is being compounded by the military confrontation in Sudan between the Sudanese Army Forces (SAF) and the Rapid Support Forces (RSF). Trafficking of arms and militants and other forms of smuggling from the Egyptian border with Sudan to its border with Gaza is an issue Egyptian authorities have long worked to control. There is serious concern in official quarters in Cairo that these activities will increase given the fluid security situation in Egypt’s southern neighbour.
Though Egypt welcomed the Saudi announcement earlier this week that Riyadh had brokered an agreement between the SAF and RSF to honour their humanitarian obligations, there are a few illusions that a ceasefire will be in place anytime soon.
Egypt has been worried by the deteriorating humanitarian situation given the impact a long conflict will have on the numbers of Sudanese attempting to cross the 1,200 km border into Egypt. The concern is not so much the number of refugees, say officials, but the impact of compromised borders on national security. An open-ended battle in Sudan, or the decline of the stability of its armed forces, are very disturbing scenarios for Egypt, they argue.
On Monday, as the conflict in Sudan was entering its second month, SAF head Abdel-Fattah Al-Borhan adopted measures intended to restrict the financial options available to RSF leaders. Al-Borhan also reshuffled some senior aides, including the minister of interior and the governor of the Sudanese Central Bank. Meanwhile, RSF leader Mohamed Hamdan Dagalo promised in a recorded message to keep on fighting, targeting the SAF in and out of Khartoum.
Egypt has been working hard, speaking to all concerned players in an attempt to secure consensus over three objectives: a role for the armed forces in any future political deal, agreement over humanitarian relief operations, and the outlines of a political compromise acceptable to both sides. Informed sources say that despite the difficulties, work is ongoing.
Cairo has been preparing for a partial summit of Sudan’s neighbours which will examine both the humanitarian and security situation in Sudan and on Sudan’s borders. The plan is to invite the leaders of both Chad and South Sudan, countries that have received large numbers of Sudanese civilians fleeing the fighting. Other neighbours of Sudan may decide to join the limited African summit. Originally scheduled to convene ahead of the Arab summit, on Monday a government source said that it could be delayed pending further consultations.
The open-ended conflict in Sudan is fuelling concerns not just over Egypt’s border with Sudan, but its border with Libya. Egyptian security authorities worry about the smuggling of arms and militants from Libya into Sudan via Egyptian territory. Officials say that the 400 km border between Libya and Sudan has been used during the past month to smuggle arms to one of the warring parties in Sudan. The lax security situation in east and southern Libya, and the Gordian knot of alliances between Libyan and Sudanese leaders, is compounding Cairo’s worries.
This week, Cairo dispatched a high-level security delegation to Libya to hold meetings with political and military figures in the eastern part of the country. A government source says that Cairo has been monitoring the beginning of a possible collapse of the fragile political understanding between political and military leaders in the east of Libya. He argued that while “the conflicting agendas and interests” of these leaders are almost impossible to untangle, it is essential to ensure they don’t get out of hand.
Securing a détente between political leaders in the east of Libya is crucial to avoiding conflicts on Egypt’s western border. “We have been working very hard to build strong contacts with all the leaders in the east of Libya and have been trying to build in-roads with tribal leaders in Libya’s south. It is all about the borders,” said one government source.
Libya will be high on the agenda of the Arab summit in Saudi Arabia. A Cairo-based Libyan source said that ahead of the summit, Riyadh has conducted consultations with Libyan political and tribal leaders in the east, west, and south of the country in an attempt to push forward the work of UN Envoy on Libya Abdoulaye Bathily and start the long overdue electoral process in Libya before the end of the year.
* A version of this article appears in print in the 18 May, 2023 edition of Al-Ahram Weekly