Bahraini King Hamad bin Eissa Al-Khalifa and Jordanian King Abdullah II had already met with President Abdel-Fattah Al-Sisi in Sharm El-Sheikh to the same end.
Both meetings confirm Egypt’s central role in reaching a united Arab stand ahead of the widely anticipated, mid-July meeting between the US president and leaders of nine Arab nations: the six Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC) countries, Egypt, Jordan and Iraq.
Ahead of his first visit to an Arab country since taking office 18 months ago, Biden will stop in Israel and Palestine for meetings with top Israeli government officials and Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas. The Democratic administration has long promised to bring the peace process back on track, after it was damaged nearly to the point of collapse under the Trump administration. So far, little if anything has been achieved, making it difficult for Arab leaders who will meet Biden in Jeddah to interact positively with ongoing US efforts to form a new joint security alliance against Iranian threats to the Arab Gulf region, Yemen, Lebanon and Iraq.
Trump had disregarded all key pillars of that peace process since it was launched in Oslo in 1993: the exchange of land for peace, and linking the normalisation of ties between Israel and Arab countries to progress in the two-state solution. He recognised occupied East Jerusalem as Israel’s “united” capital, closed the Palestinian Embassy in Washington and shut down the US Consulate in East Jerusalem, which endorsed Washington’s refusal to recognise Israel’s unilateral decision to annex that part of the disputed city which was occupied in 1967, like the rest of Palestinian territories in the West Bank and Gaza. Instead, Trump and his infamous son-in-law Jarred Kushner pushed for normalisation agreements between Israel and several Arab countries, known as the Abraham Accords, while promising billions of dollars in aid to Palestinians, imagining that this would be a fair offer in return for giving up the aspiration to an independent Palestinian state.
The Biden administration sought to distance itself from those steps, but no tangible measures have been taken to revive peace talks between Israel and Palestinians. The announcement by Israel’s fragile ruling coalition on Monday that it would call for new elections, expected by autumn, is certainly going to be the common Israeli excuse to escape from taking any steps towards reviving serious peace talks with the Palestinians. On the Iran confrontation front, any Israeli government in office, especially if right-wing Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu makes a comeback, will remain a central issue, if not the only one. Netanyahu’s possible return to office as prime minister would likely lead to more hard-line language and stands on Iran, and a return to the total disregard of any attempt to reach peace with the Palestinians.
The consultations that took place in Cairo and Sharm El-Sheikh are a necessary prelude to ensure that Arab leaders will speak in a united voice when they meet Biden in Jeddah to discuss various thorny topics, including Iran, the dead Palestinian-Israeli peace process and, more recently, the devastating effect of the Russia-Ukraine war on the region. The soaring prices of basic commodities, such as wheat and cooking oil, as well as fuel, has added tremendous pressure on Egypt’s budget, nearly doubling the cost of its imports.
Al-Sisi and Bin Salman discussed the vital role Saudi Arabia played in helping Egypt overcome the massive losses it suffered following the outbreak of the Ukraine war four months ago. As portfolio investors pulled money from Egypt, tourism income declined and the government faced rising commodity prices in knock-on effects at the start of the Ukraine war, Saudi Arabia deposited $5 billion in Egypt’s Central Bank. The Saudi-based International Islamic Trade Finance Corporation (ITFC) has provided Egypt with finance for commodity imports and Egypt’s government has said cooperation with the Saudi sovereign wealth fund will result in $10 billion in investments.
Egypt has also strongly supported recent efforts by Saudi Arabia to bring an end to the ongoing war and suffering in Yemen, which is likely to be another important topic on the agenda of the upcoming US-Arab summit. President Al-Sisi has expressed strong support to the UN-mediated truce in Yemen, which has led to the most peaceful period there since war broke out seven years ago. Egypt’s ties with Saudi Arabia, the United Arab Emirates and other Gulf nations, as well as Jordan and Iraq, constitute to a strategic partnership, given that these relations are the cornerstone of preserving regional security and stability. This partnership aims at achieving development and peace through a unified and effective vision.
A version of this article appears in print in the 23 June, 2022 edition of Al-Ahram Weekly.