Egypt took part in a series of important summit meetings last weekend on the situation in Gaza.
On 10 November, President Abdel-Fattah Al-Sisi met with Qatar’s Emir Sheikh Tamim bin Hamad Al-Thani in Qatar. On 11 November, he attended the Joint Arab-Islamic Extraordinary Summit in Riyadh, where he met a host of Arab leaders to address the issue of the Israeli war on Gaza.
The Egyptian consultations and meetings continue to keep what is left of the Palestinian case alive and to represent it to the international community, political science professor Tarek Fahmi told Al-Ahram Weekly.
He said the meetings were important to de-escalate the crisis in Gaza and deal seriously with the civilian hostage issue. Egyptian consultations with Arab and international parties were also important as various moves could hinge on them in the coming stage, he said.
The recent meetings held in Cairo, Fahmi said, whether the Egyptian-Qatari consultations, the visit of the Qatari emir, the recent visit of an Israeli delegation and a Hamas delegation to Cairo, and others, are all very important in efforts to de-escalate the crisis in Gaza and deal seriously with the issue of the hostages.
Both Cairo and Doha are working towards securing the release of the Israeli hostages held by the Palestinian group Hamas as a step towards easing the situation in Gaza and ensuring that sustainable aid will reach its people.
Egypt, which has contacts with Hamas and Israel and has been involved in negotiations for the release of the hostages and the provision of aid via the Rafah crossing to Gaza, has assisted in the evacuation of foreign passport holders from Gaza and of some Palestinians requiring urgent medical treatment.
Meanwhile Qatar, where several Hamas political leaders are based, has been leading mediation attempts between Hamas and Israel for the release of the more than 240 hostages captured by Hamas on 7 October.
During their meeting, Al-Sisi and Tamim discussed growing efforts to reach a ceasefire in Gaza and the delivery of badly needed aid to its 2.3 million besieged residents, a statement issued by the Egyptian Presidency read.
Both countries want to see the return of displaced civilians to northern Gaza as a condition for any deal.
But Fahmi ascribed the failure to reach an agreement on the hostages until now to factors including the lack of political will to start serious negotiations. “The negotiations are expected to start with a deal to release the civilian hostages followed by another deal to release military hostages and then an agreement on a ceasefire and the procedures that will follow the truce,” he said.
At the Joint Arab-Islamic Extraordinary Summit in Riyadh on 11 November, the participating countries underscored the centrality of the Palestinian cause and their support for the legitimate struggle of the Palestinian people to liberate their occupied territory and the need to end the Israeli aggression against the Palestinian people.
The summit highlighted the unified Arab-Islamic vision, saying that both blocs will work to reach a two-state solution to the crisis to be declared at an international conference that will draw up a timetable for the establishment of the Palestinian state, explained former Egyptian deputy foreign minister Mohamed Hegazi.
“The summit sent a double message to Israel that if it wants peace according to the Arab Peace Initiative, all the Arab and Islamic states will establish good relations with it. But if it fails to establish justice through establishing a Palestinian state, it will only see boycotts and regional and international isolation,” Hegazi said.
He added that Israel must realise that peace in the region requires it to be a peaceful state that does not occupy land or kill civilians.
Fahmi did not pin much hope on the summit, however. The final statement emphasised important matters, but it failed to outline concrete measures capable of ending the Israeli aggression or easing the ongoing humanitarian crisis, he said.
The Arab and Islamic meetings were originally planned to be held separately on the same day. Their merger came at the request of half the foreign ministers of the Organisation of the Islamic Conference (OIC).
The merger was not welcomed by the Palestinians, who would have preferred the Arab Summit to be held separately to focus attention on Gaza and to enable the summit to deliver crucial recommendations.
In their 31-clause final resolution, the leaders affirmed that a just, lasting, and comprehensive peace is the only way to establish security and stability for all the peoples of the region and protect them from cycles of violence and wars.
“This, we stress, will not be achieved without ending the Israeli occupation and resolving the Palestinian cause on the basis of the two-state solution,” the statement read.
It called on the international community to recognise Israel as an occupying power, with all the attendant consequences in international humanitarian law.
The statement rejected any attempts at individual or collective forced displacement, exile, or deportation of the Palestinian people, whether from Gaza, the West Bank, or Jerusalem to any other destination.
On the sidelines of the Joint Arab-Islamic Extraordinary Summit President Al-Sisi met Iranian President Ebrahim Raisi. Both leaders discussed the situation in Gaza as well as bilateral relations. Al-Sisi shared with Raisi Egypt’s efforts to achieve a truce in Gaza, in addition to the country’s efforts to provide humanitarian aid to Gazans. Raisi, for his part, emphasised the dire need for the unity of Islamic countries against the Israeli aggression on Gaza.
In addition, both leaders expressed a wish for improving bilateral relations. This is the first meeting between the Egyptian and Iranian presidents in the past 45 years, since the Islamic Revolution in Iran in 1979.
Al-Sisi stated in the meeting that Egypt has a definite political will to establish real relations with Iran, adding that, “for that, we have assigned the relevant ministers to pursue deep relations between the two countries,” he said.
On a similar note, Raisi said, “the Islamic Republic of Iran has no barrier to expanding relations with the friendly country of Egypt.”
In another meeting held two days earlier in Paris, Egyptian Foreign Minister Sameh Shoukri pointed to the consequences of delaying a ceasefire in Gaza.
“Israel’s actions in Gaza are beyond any concept of the legitimate right of self-defence,” he said during his participation at the Paris Conference. He condemned all practices aiming to forcibly displace the Palestinians from their land.
“Opening a safe corridor for civilian movement to the south of Gaza is not a positive development, but rather is a continuation of displacement in violation of international humanitarian law,” Shoukri said.
Nearly two thirds of Gaza residents have been displaced from the north to the south of the Strip on the orders of the Israeli forces.
In the same meeting, French President Emmanuel Macron affirmed the need for a humanitarian pause “very quickly” and a push for a ceasefire. “The situation is serious and getting worse each day,” Macron stressed.
With that concern in mind, Egypt’s mission in Geneva took part together with 70 ambassadors in issuing a joint call to end the bloodshed in Gaza. The statement said that hospitals in Gaza are “coming to a halt” as fuel and electricity supplies have been cut.
“Doctors are performing surgery without anesthesia; mothers are watching their babies fighting for survival in incubators that are running out of electricity; the only cancer hospital in Gaza has shut down while other hospitals are bombed,” they said.
The ambassadors’ statement appealed for an immediate ceasefire and urged the international community “to exert maximum pressure” to ensure emergency humanitarian access and assistance, as well as the restoration of basic services.
They also demanded action to end the forcible transfer of Palestinians within or from Gaza.
The war in Gaza has thus far taken the lives of more than 11,000 Palestinians. Children, women, and the elderly account for 75 per cent of the victims. Some 26,000 people have been injured.
* A version of this article appears in print in the 16 November, 2023 edition of Al-Ahram Weekly