Tuesday,21 August, 2018
Current issue | Issue 1301, (23 - 29 June 2016)
Tuesday,21 August, 2018
Issue 1301, (23 - 29 June 2016)

Ahram Weekly

Reviving the peace?

Egyptian and European efforts to restart the peace process in the region continued this week, reports Doaa El-Bey

Al-Ahram Weekly

French and Irish officials met Egyptian Foreign Minister Sameh Shoukri in Cairo this week to discuss the revival of the Israeli-Palestinian peace process. The diplomatic efforts aim to build on the recent Paris Summit, part of a French initiative to find a solution to the Palestinian-Israeli conflict.‎“The French initiative, together with President Abdel-Fattah Al-Sisi’s calls for peace, have served to revive international interest in the Palestinian cause, which had earlier moved out of the limelight because of other pressing issues in the region, among them the conflicts in Syria, Libya, Yemen and Iraq,” said Rakha Hassan, a former assistant to Egypt’s foreign minister.

“The bottom line is not to start peace negotiations but to agree the conditions under which the negotiations will be held. The two parties have been in negotiations for decades but there has been no real outcome,” said one diplomat who talked on condition of anonymity.

Last Thursday, Shoukri met with Charles Flanagan, Ireland’s minister for foreign affairs and ‎trade. The two officials discussed the latest regional developments, ‎especially the peace process in the Middle East and Egyptian-‎Irish bilateral relations.

Foreign Ministry spokesman Ahmed Abu Zeid said Shoukri briefed Flanagan on his assessment of the situation in the Middle East, especially Egypt’s vision of the Palestinian cause and ways to encourage the Palestinians and Israelis to resume negotiations.

He added that the two officials also discussed the situations in Libya and Syria and efforts to combat terrorism. “In the framework of boosting bilateral relations, the Irish official invited his counterpart to visit Dublin to follow up on joint projects between the two countries,” Abu Zeid said.

Flanagan was one of the European foreign ministers ‎who took part in the summit held in Paris earlier this month to launch the French-sponsored ‎peace initiative. The initiative was rejected by Israel, which prefers to hold direct talks with the Palestinians without international participation.

Flanagan’s tour of the Middle East took him to Israel and the Palestinian Territories before paying Egypt a two-day visit that started last Thursday.‎ He earlier described ‎his talks with Israeli Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu as “very positive and ‎constructive,” though Netanyahu’s office made no ‎comment on the visit.

Shoukri also met Pierre Vimont, France’s special envoy for Middle East peace, in Cairo last Thursday. According to ‎Abu Zeid, the two officials discussed the outcomes of the Paris Summit and preparations for a new peace ‎conference to be held before the end of the year.‎Vimont also shared the results of his talks with Israeli and ‎Palestinian officials and the steps that need to be taken to implement the recommendations of the Paris Summit. He arrived in Cairo on Wednesday for a two-day visit during which ‎he met with a number of other Egyptian officials.

According to Hassan, the official visits should attract world attention to the Palestinian cause on an international level via the Paris Summit and on a regional level through Al-Sisi’s peace calls.

The visits also remind the Arab states of the Palestinian cause. “It is present in the back of the mind of every Arab citizen. But it needs to be given more attention,” Hassan said.

The Palestinians are in a weak position because they are divided, he said. “Division makes them lose the sympathy of the Arab states and the other states that want to help them,” he said.

The peace initiative proposed earlier this year by France ‎is an attempt to revive talks between the Palestinians ‎and Israelis after the collapse of the negotiations two years ago.‎The French initiative consists of two phases, with the first phase, begun earlier this month, aiming to re-launch the peace process. The second phase will be an international conference attended by both Palestinian and Israeli officials, scheduled to be held before the end of the year.

Despite international support for the French initiative, it has been rejected by Netanyahu, who has said that direct negotiations are the only way to resolve the conflict.‎According to Hassan, the Israeli rejection is the first obstacle on the way to holding the planned conference. “At present we are facing a hardline government in Israel that is not likely to make any concessions before the negotiations start,” he said.

The second obstacle is the position of the US. “Will the US allow France to take positive steps towards peace in the Middle East? Will it allow a two-year peace negotiation process, as France has suggested, to start? Will it allow any party to impose anything on Israel, its pampered son?” Hassan asked.

The third obstacle is the disarray of the Arab states, which are either in a state of weakness or are interfering in each other’s affairs. Unless there is an end to this, the Arab states will not be able to put pressure on Israel or other international parties, Hassan said.

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