The talks were intended to reduce the chances of further deterioration in the situation in occupied Palestine, especially since the rise to power of a new right-wing Israeli government which includes several key ministers known for their extremist views and rejection of any peaceful reconciliation with Palestinians.
On Tuesday, 17 January in Cairo, Al-Sisi hosted the leaders of Jordan and Palestine, King Abdullah and Mahmoud Abbas, for discussions of the imminent threats facing Palestinians in the occupied territories in East Jerusalem, the West Bank and Gaza.
During the summit, the leaders stressed the necessity of safeguarding legitimate Palestinian rights and the continuation of their joint efforts to achieve a comprehensive, just and lasting peace based on the two-state solution, which provides for an independent and sovereign Palestinian state with the 4 June 1967 borders, with East Jerusalem as its capital, in accordance with international law, the relevant international legitimacy resolutions and the 2002 Arab Peace Initiative.
Al-Sisi, Abbas and Abdullah stressed the need for the international community to provide protection for the Palestinian people and their legitimate rights and pool efforts to find a real political horizon that would re-launch serious and effective negotiations to resolve the Palestinian issue on the basis of the two-state solution, warning of the danger of the continued absence of a political horizon and its repercussions on regional security and stability.
They also stressed the need to stop all illegal, unilateral Israeli measures that undermine the two-state solution and the chances of achieving a just and comprehensive peace, which include settlements, confiscation of Palestinian lands, home demolitions, the displacement of Palestinians from their homes, continual Israeli incursions into Palestinian cities, and the violation of the historical and legal status quo in occupied East Jerusalem and its holy sites.
In their joint statement, the three heads of state stressed the necessity of preserving the existing historical and legal situation in Jerusalem and its Islamic and Christian sanctities, in a manner that guarantees respect for the fact that the blessed Al-Aqsa Mosque, with its entire area, is a place of worship for Muslims, and that the Department of Endowments for Jerusalem and the Affairs of the blessed Al-Aqsa Mosque of the Jordanian Ministry of Endowments, Islamic Affairs and Holy Sites is the only body authorised to manage the affairs of the Al-Aqsa and regulate entry to it.
Al-Sisi and Abbas also affirmed the importance of the historical Hashemite Custodianship over Islamic and Christian holy places in Jerusalem and its role in protecting these sanctities and their Arab, Islamic and Christian identity.
Moreover, all three leaders stressed the need to unify Palestinian movements and end the division, which is a necessity for the Palestinian people, and the need to take serious and effective measures to alleviate the deteriorating living conditions of Palestinians in the Gaza Strip.
Both the king of Jordan and the Palestinian president praised Egyptian efforts to maintain calm in Gaza and to rebuild the besieged, heavily populated strip, while reaffirming the responsibility of international donors in the efforts to rebuild Gaza.
The following day, Al-Sisi headed to Abu Dhabi for a consultation meeting with four Gulf Arab allies: the United Arab Emirates, Bahrain, Qatar and Oman, together with King Abdullah once again. The meeting, hosted by UAE President Sheikh Mohamed bin Zayed, was held under the banner of “Prosperity and Stability in the Region,” and highlighted the importance of enhancing joint Arab efforts to tackle the region’s political, security, and economic challenges.
Considering that four out of the six Arab leaders who met in Abu Dhabi maintain diplomatic relations with Israel, it was important to send a clear message to Netanyahu’s new extremist government that any further normalisation with Arab countries was conditional on refraining from acts that would undermine the status of the holy Aqsa Mosque, and from annexing more Palestinian territories.
Such inter-Arab contacts coincided with a visit by US National Security Adviser Jack Sullivan to Israel and Palestine, holding the first direct meeting with Netanyahu and several senior Israeli officials on Thursday. While it was important to make clear to the Israeli government that its closest ally in the world did not want to see acts that would generate a new round of tensions, and possible military escalation, Washington can certainly take immediate steps to protect what remains of the peace process.
Indeed it was a positive development that the Biden administration had resumed contacts with the Palestinian Authority, severed by his predecessor Donald Trump. Yet many US promises remained unmet, including the reopening of the US Consulate in East Jerusalem, as well as the PLO mission in Washington.
In his meeting with Sullivan, President Abbas appealed to the Biden administration to stop the Israeli government from pushing ahead with escalatory measures against Palestinians. He warned that the new Israeli coalition’s policies “are destroying all remaining chances of achieving peace and stability in the region.”
Abbas urged the United States “to intervene before it is too late to stop these unilateral measures.” He stressed that Palestinians “will not accept the continuation of Israeli crimes. We will oppose them and defend our rights, our land and our holy sites.”
*A version of this article appears in print in the 26 January, 2023 edition of Al-Ahram Weekly.