In the face of a shameful silence on the part of the West — indeed, a green light for Israel to continue murdering innocent Palestinian civilians in Gaza around the clock — Egypt took the initiative to call for an international peace summit on Saturday. The aim was to bring the relentless Israeli attacks, allegedly in self-defence following the Hamas attack on 7 October, to an immediate end.
Despite broad regional and international participation by nearly all parties concerned, the summit unfortunately did not end with a joint communiqué.
However, it was an important first step in a determined, incremental effort by Egypt and other Arab countries to bring an end to the ongoing madness which nearly everybody has been warning might develop into a wider, regional war.
Immediately after the Hamas attack in which 1400 Israelis were killed, the United States and key European nations decided to blindly support Israel. They would not even discuss the urgent need for humanitarian aid in the 360 square km strip where nearly 2.5 million Palestinians live.
War crimes were committed by depriving Palestinians of water, food, medicine and fuel, but the “civilised,” “democratic” West approved of them as part of Israel’s “justified” response to the large-scale, surprising attack carried out by Hamas fighters.
Even worse, when Israel’s right wing government began circulating ridiculous proposals to forcibly move Palestinians from Gaza to Egypt’s North Sinai, the overwhelming feelings of sympathy with the Jewish state led some key Western allies to contemplate the idea, even press Egypt to consider a deal. This was in total disregard of Egypt’s sovereignty, international law and the bitter memories of mass deportation of Palestinians throughout the history of the Arab-Israeli conflict, namely in 1948 and 1967.
While the United Nations Security Council remained at a standstill, with resolutions calling for ceasefire vetoed by the United States, it was not an option for Egypt to remain silent. It became necessary to call for the peace summit in Cairo so that all parties concerned shoulder their responsibilities, at least in terms of agreeing on the need to provide Palestinians in Gaza with immediate humanitarian aid.
On Saturday, the same day the Cairo summit was held, following close coordination between Egypt and the United States, the first convoy of 20 trucks finally crossed the Rafah border into Gaza. More convoys left in the following days. Yet they remain a drop in the ocean of Gaza’s needs following over two weeks of vicious Israeli bombing in the absence of food, water and fuel.
The United Nations and all international relief organisations working in Gaza long before the latest Israeli war warned that nearly all hospitals in the strip would not be able to function within two to three days if they were not immediately provided with fuel. And that is not to mention that many hospitals in Gaza were forced to shut down or destroyed. Israel’s continued refusal to allow fuel into Gaza is essentially a decision to kill hundreds of Palestinians seeking emergency help at the remaining, collapsing hospitals.
In his speech at the summit, President Abdel-Fattah Al-Sisi also debunked once and for any illusion that Egypt would ever accept resettling Palestinians in Sinai, becoming an accomplice in a new Nakba, or catastrophe. While Egypt was the first Arab nation to sign a peace treaty with Israel in 1979, it has been made crystal clear since then that the final targets were to ensure Israel’s withdrawal from all Arab territories occupied in 1967, and establish an independent Palestinian state with East Jerusalem as its capital.
“I want to state it clearly and unequivocally to the world, and articulate in sincere terms the will of all the Egyptian people, every single Egyptian: that the liquidation of the Palestinian cause without a just solution is beyond the realm of possibility, and in all cases it will never happen at the expense of Egypt, absolutely not,” Al-Sisi said, not mincing words.
He added that it would also be a big mistake to think that the Palestinian people, who for 75 years have endured a harsh, racist occupation as well as several wars, would ever be willing “to abandon their land, even if that land is under occupation or bombardment.”
It was also important for Western leaders and representatives who took part in the summit to hear first-hand how the leaders and peoples of this region were outraged over what could only be described as their flagrant racism while dealing with Palestinian casualties, in comparison to those of Israel.
Several Arab leaders affirmed their condemnation of attacking Israeli and Palestinian civilians alike. Yet, the death of 1400 Israeli, mainly due to the Israeli army and security apparatus’ humiliating failure, cannot be a licence to commit genocide against Palestinians. Palestinian deaths have exceeded 5200 at the time of writing, and the figure includes 2000 children and 1000 women. Thus, the question now is how many Palestinians need to be killed before the United States and other European Security Council members agree that it is time for a ceasefire.
President Al-Sisi as well as all Arab leaders who delivered speeches warned that the Western attitude to the current Israeli war on Gaza will have long-lasting effects on the already shaky confidence and trust between the two sides.
“Egypt condemns, in the clearest terms, the targeting, killing and intimidation of peaceful civilians,” Al-Sisi said. “At the same time, Egypt is expressing its deep shock that the world is standing by idly, while the catastrophic humanitarian crisis unfolds… Where are the values of human civilisation that we have established over long millennia? Where is equality of human souls without discrimination or segregation or double standards?”
Echoing the Egyptian president, Al-Ahram Weekly would also like to pose some questions. Isn’t it about time to address the root causes of the problem of the Middle East? Hasn’t the time come to dispel the political illusion that the status quo is sustainable? “Egypt is telling you in all candour and sincerity: the one and only solution is justice, with the Palestinians obtaining their legitimate rights to self-determination, and leading a proud and safe life in an independent state on their land like the rest of the peoples of the earth.”
* A version of this article appears in print in the 26 October, 2023 edition of Al-Ahram Weekly