The Aqsa connection

Al-Ahram Weekly Editorial
Monday 20 Feb 2023

The Arab League high-level conference held this week under the title “Jerusalem: Resilience and Development” is not the first of its kind.


Arab countries have reconfirmed their commitment to the Palestinian cause and the special status of Jerusalem, where some of the holiest sites for Muslims and Christians are located. This time too President Abdel-Fattah Al-Sisi, Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas and Jordanian King Abdullah took Jerusalem on board, but the meeting was different in one significant respect: its timing, which couldn’t have been more urgent.

The meeting was held at a time when occupied East Jerusalem is facing imminent dangers not only undermining the historic existence of Palestinians in the city, but also threatening to provoke a large-scale confrontation that could pose danger to regional, if not world, security in the midst of many other crises, wars, and natural disasters.

Since Israel’s illegal occupation of East Jerusalem in 1967, along with the West Bank, Gaza, and Syria’s Golan Heights, the status of the holy city and the rights of both Muslims and Christians who reside there have been one of the thorniest issues in the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. Unilateral, illegal acts by Israel, aimed to alter the identity of the city and infringe on the internationally recognised Muslim control of Al-Aqsa Mosque, while claiming that it was only the capital of the Jewish people, have always been the reason behind the worst and bloodiest confrontations in the history of the conflict.

After the election of a new government in Israel, described as the most extremist in Israeli history with several ministers advocating a bluntly racist, even genocidal agenda, measures aiming at further suffocating Palestinians in occupied East Jerusalem have intensified to unprecedented levels. Those measures were not ordered by outlawed extremist Jewish settlers as in the past few decades, but by high-level ministers in the current Israeli government. One of those ministers, responsible for national security, had even won elections on the platform of increasing aggression against the Muslim Al-Aqsa Mosque, violating existing arrangements on the control of holy Muslim and Christian sites since Israel occupied the holy city 56 years ago. Incursions into occupied Palestinian cities in the West Bank had also intensified, killing dozens of Palestinians, including women and children.

That’s why the Jerusalem Support conference held this week at the Arab League headquarters in Cairo was so timely. It aimed not only to provide political support, but also to agree on measures that would provide much needed assistance to Palestinian residents of occupied East Jerusalem on the economic, educational and health levels to back up their resilient insistence on staying in their city and in their homes despite extremely difficult conditions due to the occupation.

The fact that the conference was hosted and attended by leaders of the first two Arab countries that signed a peace treaty with Israel was also an important political message to the current Israeli government and all parties involved in the once-upon-a-time Middle East peace process.

Egypt took the initiative more than four decades ago to extend the hand of peace to Israel. Yet it was clear from the start that this peace must be based on justice, international law and the aim of reaching a comprehensive and just settlement that would restore the legitimate rights of the Palestinian people, including the right to establish their own independent state along the borders of 4 June 1967. As President Al-Sisi stressed in his speech at the conference, “I confirm here that the capital of this state, agreed upon and aspired to by the Palestinian and Arab peoples, will remain East Jerusalem.”

He warned that unilateral Israeli measures in occupied East Jerusalem are threatening regional security and any chance for coexistence among the peoples of the region. “Acts like building settlements, demolishing homes, forcible evictions of Palestinians, a systematic policy to Judaise Jerusalem and illegal incursions into Al-Aqsa Mosque as well as Palestinian cities, increase tension on the ground and threaten to push the security situation out of hand. They also put an end to any chance for a two-state solution and place both sides and the Middle East before dangerous and difficult options.”

Noting that the current stalemate and failure to revive peace talks between Palestine and Israel can only make matters worse and complicate any hope to reach a peaceful settlement in the future, Al-Sisi said that “Egypt will continue to call for dealing with the root cause of the crisis, which is the Israeli occupation, and will spare no effort to defend the legitimate rights of the Palestinian people who have suffered for long.”  

Cairo will also continue to support reconstruction efforts in Gaza to reduce the suffering of its people.

Al-Sisi had two messages for the Palestinian and Israeli people. For Palestinians, he said, “Yes, your suffering has lasted long and your rights are long overdue as many regional crises escalated. Yet your cause remains a priority for Egypt and the Arabs, and will remain a key component of joint Arab action.” To the Israeli people and government, he argued that “it is time to stress the culture of peace and coexistence, and even integration among the peoples of the region. For this reason, we extended a hand of peace represented in the Arab Peace Initiative which guaranteed this goal in a comprehensive and just context (land for peace and normalisation). Let’s carry it out together and turn a painful page for the sake of future Palestinian and Israeli generations on an equal level.”


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