Egypt working toward long-term regional stability

Dina Ezzat , Thursday 2 May 2024

Egypt is working with partners on a long-term scheme for regional stability.

Playing for time


Cairo has spent the last week pushing hard for “a pause” in Israel’s war on Gaza.

“It does not matter if it is called a truce, a ceasefire or something else, as long as it gives the Palestinian people space to breathe, time for the Israelis and Palestinians to listen to mediators who are trying to put together a deal for a longer-term no-hostilities commitment, and humanitarian aid is allowed into Gaza,” said an informed Egyptian source.

The source spoke before a high-level Egyptian security delegation was dispatched to Israel earlier this week, charged with convincing the Israelis to agree to some of Hamas — and other Palestinian factions’ — demands for a deal that would see Israeli hostages exchanged for Palestinians in Israeli prisons, access for more aid to Gaza and a multi-phase Israeli withdrawal from the centre and north of the Strip.

Following the delegation’s return to Cairo — the source described the trip as “positive but not conclusive” — senior Hamas representatives arrived in Cairo to follow up on the discussions Egypt had had with Israel.

“We were expecting the Hamas delegation to engage positively with what we had secured but this was not the case,” said the source.

Hamas, he explained, wanted more guarantees that Israel would act on its promises. “On the phased pull out of troops, Hamas said Israel had not committed to a complete withdrawal from the central area of the Strip. Nor was Hamas comfortable with the level of Israeli commitment on the volume of humanitarian aid that would be allowed into Gaza.”

There were other gaps, added the source, to do with the management of the movement of people from central Gaza to the north, management of the situation in the north, including access to humanitarian aid, and over the length of the pause in hostilities and conditions for its extension.

An Israeli delegation that was supposed to arrive in Cairo on Tuesday put off its travel plans after Hamas failed to agree to the terms negotiated between Egypt and Israel. The Hamas delegation duly left for consultations and promised to share a reply with Cairo by Thursday.

“We are waiting and, in the meantime, working on alternatives should the deal not materialise,” the source said. What is currently being considered is not a new plan but a draft compilation comprising as many points of agreement as possible from the various offers put to the parties since November.

Even if this week’s attempt fails to produce a deal, “which is possible given the political calculations of both sides,” Egypt, “along with other mediators”, will continue to try to move towards a deal.

The source explained that nobody can be sure a deal will be agreed because of two facts. First, despite large demonstrations in Israel in support of prioritising the return of the hostages, Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu will not countenance a medium-term, let alone long-term, delay of Israel’s ground offensive on Rafah where Netanyahu believes most of Hamas’ leaders are hiding.

“The fact is that, despite political differences on many issues, a majority of members of the Israeli coalition favour a Rafah operation, and sooner rather than later.”

Second, he said, Hamas is unwilling to settle for a few weeks of truce during which it hands over Israeli hostages when it knows Netanyahu will not change his mind on the Rafah ground offensive. “This is why Hamas is being very specific about the withdrawal of Israeli troops. It wants to be reassured that if there is a truce the Rafah offensive will be called off.”

Cairo’s position is that any delay to the Rafah offensive offers an opportunity for it to be either cancelled or reworked into a less aggressive operation.

“We know very well that Netanyahu is determined but we hope incremental delays will give the Americans a chance to reach a deal with Netanyahu that could limit an already catastrophic humanitarian tragedy,” said the source.

Meanwhile, Egypt is working with Washington and other concerned capitals to formulate a future political deal centred on giving hope to the Palestinians and greater regional accommodation to Israel.

“We are trying to spare Gaza, which has already been reduced almost entirely to rubble. We want to open a door towards Palestinian statehood and we know that for Netanyahu to move in this direction he needs greater normalisation with Arab countries and more security guarantees,” said the source.

“Unfortunately, even if we secure a relatively long truce, there are no guarantees that things will hold. This is why we need to keep the parties engaged, whether or not a deal emerges.”

* A version of this article appears in print in the 2 May, 2024 edition of Al-Ahram Weekly

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