After years of stalemate in the peace process negotiations, and the retreat of the Palestinian issue in the Arab world, amid the acceleration of official normalization, in conjunction with Washington’s bias towards the Israeli side during the era of outgoing President Donald Trump; Egypt once again presents itself as a mediator in the peace process.
On Monday, Cairo hosted a meeting of the foreign ministers of Egypt, France, Germany and Jordan. With the aim of continuing coordination and consultation on ways to advance the peace process in the Middle East towards a just, comprehensive and lasting peace, according to the Egyptian Foreign Ministry statement.
This Egyptian interaction raised many questions about its timing and connotations on the one hand, and the ability to restore it on the other hand, after the peace process was absent from the regional and international negotiating table for years, and remained only within the vocabulary of political discourses on some local, Arab and international occasions.
According to observers, the The Palestinian issue has lost much of its momentum, not only because of Trump’s bias towards the Israeli side, but also due to the decline of Cairo’s role With the greatest political weight in the region, And one of the most important parties to the peace process negotiations historically.
This Egyptian interaction coincides with the end of the Trump era, which witnessed the transfer of the US embassy to Jerusalem as the capital of Israel, and gave the green light to expand settlement operations, while the Palestinian Authority was physically and politically besieged, and pushed in the direction of the UAE, Bahrain, Sudan and Morocco declaring normalization with Israel, in violation of For the Arab Peace Initiative.
The Egyptian interaction also comes with the advent of a new US administration led by Democratic President-elect Joe Biden, and an attempt to find common ground between Cairo and Washington, as the Egyptian authorities expect a strained relationship with it on issues of democracy and human rights.
Continuing Egypt’s firm position on supporting the Palestinian cause, and seeking to resume the negotiation track … Foreign Minister Sameh Shoukry receives at Tahrir Palace both the Deputy Prime Minister and the Minister of Foreign Affairs of Jordan and the foreign ministers of France and Germany.
@ForeignMinistry @francediplo_EN @GermanyDiplo pic.twitter.com/VDPeaqbJMj
— Egypt MFA Spokesperson (@MfaEgypt) January 11, 2021
Egyptian efforts unremitting
Keen to be in the picture, Egyptian President Abdel Fattah El-Sisi received the foreign ministers of the Quartet (Munich Group), praising the quadripartite coordination that aims to break the current deadlock in the peace process negotiations.
In a statement to the presidency, Sisi confirmed “The importance of moving at the present time to bring the peace process file back to the international political arena, taking into account the latest political developments at the international and regional levels.”
But it is noteworthy in the statement that it emphasized the role of Egypt and Jordan alone, as they are the closest to the issue, as the statement said, “taking into account the membership of the group that includes the two Arab countries closest to the Palestinian cause as well as the major European Union countries.”
Peace negotiations in the Middle East have stalled since the efforts of former US Secretary of State John Kerry failed throughout 2013 and 2014.
“Our efforts are continuing to break the deadlock #Peace negotiations “.. # Sisi Confirms to the Munich Group the necessity of a settlement #The Palestinian cause Why would that change the reality of the region for the better and open paths for cooperation between governments and peoples? pic.twitter.com/gLT0GxLjJn
– Al Jazeera Egypt (@AJA_Egypt) January 11, 2021
On the indications of Egypt’s return to the top of the peace process file, Ambassador Abdullah Al-Ashaal, the former assistant foreign minister, affirmed that there are 3 indications: “The first is that Israel is heading to escalate settlement activity and has dropped from its political settlement calculations, and the second is that it is consistent with the intentions of the new American President Biden in this file. And the third, urging the Palestinians to unite behind one goal and end internal divisions. “
Regarding the timing of this move, Al-Ashaal confirmed – in a statement to Al-Jazeera Net – that the Trump administration was adopting the Israeli viewpoint, and was not enthusiastic about any bilateral negotiations based on international references, in addition to the regional and international conditions that were not conducive to any move.
Al-Ashaal stressed that Egypt’s departure from the file made the Palestinian cause lose a lot. As it opened the way for Israel to be alone in Palestine, and much time was lost for Israel to play, but any Egyptian role depends on the compatibility of the Palestinian house, and it is now for Egypt to appear on the scene again, because its national security is linked to the security of Palestine.
A few days ago, Egypt led a mediation in order to hold a meeting between Palestinian Foreign Minister Riyad al-Maliki and his Israeli counterpart Gabi Ashkenazi, but it was postponed due to the repercussions of the Corona virus pandemic and the closure in Israel, according to the Israeli newspaper Maariv.
At the end of last November, Sisi received Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas from Jordan, after his meeting with Jordanian King Abdullah II, where they discussed developments in the Palestinian issue and the peace process in the Middle East.
The Ministry of Foreign Affairs condemns in an official statement the approval by the Israeli government of the decision to establish 800 new settlement units in the West Bank, considering that this step undermines the negotiation process. pic.twitter.com/ptfYl8LgCi
– Al Jazeera Egypt (@AJA_Egypt) January 12, 2021
The absence of compulsion, not choice
In a related context, the researcher on Israeli affairs at the Vision Center for Political Development in Istanbul, Salah al-Din al-Awda, explained that the Quartet was formed last February during the Munich Security Conference as a kind of Arab-European budget for Trump’s policies, who sided with Israel, and according to Israeli sources, Egypt was not in agreement. On Trump’s policies towards the Palestinian issue.
Regarding the absence of the Egyptian role during the past years and its impact on the Palestinian issue, Al-Awouda explained that Egypt expected Trump to continue the approach of his predecessors, and in his first meeting with Trump, Sisi welcomed his intentions towards achieving the deal of the century, but with time Egypt found itself neutral due to Trump’s bias towards Israel. Down to the start of the normalization train in recent months away from it.
In his interview with Al-Jazeera Net, Al-Awouda believes that the opportunity has become ripe for the Egyptian regime with the end of the Trump era, as it seeks once again to restore its role, whether in terms of internal Palestinian dialogue or in the political settlement process.
Searching for a new role
On his part; The Egyptian opposition writer and politician Mohamed Sherif Kamel said that the Palestinian cause has lost a lot with the decline of the Egyptian role. Egypt now is not the Egypt of the past, this transformation is old and not recent, as it began precisely after the Camp David Accord (the peace treaty between Egypt and Israel in 1979), and then the Egyptian role began to decline little by little.
Speaking to Al-Jazeera Net, the Egyptian dissident said that after the military coup in the summer of 2013 (led by then Minister of Defense Abdel Fattah al-Sisi), Egypt’s role had turned into a correspondent between Gaza and the Israeli government, as well as between Gaza and the Palestinian Authority in Ramallah, and it did not have any role more than that. Especially with the growing role of the UAE in everything related to the Palestinian file, sometimes in coordination with Saudi Arabia, all in full coordination with Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, and Trump’s son-in-law, Jared Kushner personally.
What we have seen of the attempt to revive Egypt, the international quartet meeting – according to Kamil – is nothing but an attempt by the regime in Egypt to find a role for it on the regional and international map, especially with the approaching assumption of the new US administration, and the possibility that it will redraw the map of relations in the region.