Published in Al Ahram Weekly on 24/9/2017
President Abdel-Fattah Al-Sisi’s call for a revived peace process between the Israelis and Palestinians signals that Egypt will spare no effort in furthering peace in the region, writes Hany Ghoraba
For over four decades, Egypt has been blazing the trail for a peace process between the Arabs and Israelis that could finally put an end to a struggle that has been going on since the early 20th century.
Since the time of former president Anwar Al-Sadat the Egyptian leadership has believed that the ongoing struggle would never attain any further results apart from deepening animosities and furthering destruction and wasting more human lives. Egypt has believed that a peaceful resolution could only be attained based on UN Security Council resolutions 242 and 337. These would be the basis of an internationally agreed two-state solution that secured recognition of a Palestinian state and Israel living side-by-side.
However, the efforts of Egyptian diplomacy have been stifled by regional and international complexities over the past four decades. In spite of Egypt’s role in mediating peace talks, international peace conventions and one-on-one negotiations between the Palestinians and Israelis, such efforts have been blocked by the vicious cycle of violence between the Palestinians and Israelis as well as the insistence of both sides on their own versions of mostly unattainable and unrealistic peace terms.
During his recent speech at the UN, President Abdel-Fattah Al-Sisi addressed the citizens of Israel, stressing Egypt’s role as a guarantor of any future peace deal between the Israelis and Palestinians and urging them to press their leaders to move forward in the negotiations. It is not the first time that the president has called upon the Israelis to commit to reviving a frozen peace process. However, this was the first time that Al-Sisi had made this call from an international podium, signifying that Egypt will spare no effort in furthering the long-coveted peace between the Palestinians and Israelis.
Egyptian diplomacy has been scrambling for months to reconcile the warring Palestinian factions of Hamas and Fatah in an attempt to mend a relationship that was severed after the Hamas coup in Gaza in 2007 that ousted the Palestinian Authority government from the Strip and put it under Hamas control. For years, Hamas has acted as a rogue organisation and has committed acts of terrorism and violence. However, the confrontation with Egypt and its ongoing support for terrorists in Sinai and support for the Muslim Brotherhood have proven to be very costly for Hamas.
Egyptian diplomacy has looked beyond the fact that Hamas is an offshoot of the banned Muslim Brotherhood group, and it has also overlooked the crimes that Hamas has committed against Egyptians over the past decade, especially in arming terrorists and smuggling weapons into Sinai. The Hamas stance now appears to be the group’s last hope of remaining in power after losing the financial support it was receiving from Qatar, along with the political support it had garnered from countries such as Syria over the years.
On the other hand, the Israelis, especially under the current government of Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, have been stifling the peace negotiations with unrealistic demands, citing security fears and the supposed inability of the Palestinians to reunite under one banner to conduct meaningful negotiations. Egypt may be able to remove these excuses by bringing Hamas and Fatah together at the negotiating table, with Hamas accepting Fatah’s terms for reconciliation for the first time in 10 years.
After eight decades of conflict, the Palestinian and Israeli sides may have reached the conclusion that most of the world has already reached — that no military solution will resolve the Palestinian-Israeli conflict. Neither side will be able to reach a decisive victory in an area that is among the most densely populated on the planet. Moreover, neither side will receive any form of applause for its military actions, with the exception of the traditional White House support for Israeli incursions into the Occupied Territories that are usually followed by the statement that “Israel has the right to defend itself.”
But that sort of support from the United States has not garnered Israel many benefits, and the European Union, its traditional supporter, shifted its stance over a decade ago, with countries such as Sweden, France and Belgium taking firmer diplomatic actions against Israel. It is therefore in Israel’s interest, just as it is in that of the Palestinians, to sit at the negotiating table to reach a final settlement to a century-old struggle initiated after the UK’s Balfour Declaration in 1917.
Both sides must believe that a less than satisfying settlement is far better than prolonging a painful struggle for another generation. The face of the Middle East will not be the same once this hotbed of trouble ceases to exist and peace reigns once and for all. A settlement would also strip the jihadists of their excuse to wage war under the pretence of liberating Palestine. For over eight decades they have been using the struggle as an excuse for waging terrorist attacks against innocent people. Removing this excuse would stop them from using it to recruit young men and women to their cause.
According to the 16th-century Dutch philosopher Erasmus, “the most disadvantageous peace is better than the most just war.” Today, his words too often still fall on deaf ears in the Middle East. Unfortunately, not everyone in the region realises the benefits of having peace in the region, and there are regimes, terrorist groups, political parties, journalists and politicians who have made their careers out of the Arab-Israeli conflict and are not likely to welcome tangible steps towards a final resolution to the age-old conflict.
However, perhaps more than at any other time in recent history, there is a conviction that today there is a golden opportunity to establish peace in the Middle East after the region has been torn apart by the conflicts in the aftermath of the Arab Spring. It is in this context that Al-Sisi’s call for peace made during his UN General Assembly speech this month should be seen as a new chance for peace in a troubled region.
Original Post in Al Ahram Weekly