Wednesday,18 July, 2018
Current issue | Issue 1303, (14 - 20 July 2016)
Wednesday,18 July, 2018
Issue 1303, (14 - 20 July 2016)

Ahram Weekly

Commentary: A significant strategic move

The visit of Egypt’s foreign minister to Tel Aviv underscores that despite great changes in the Arab world, decisions of war and peace continue to pass through Cairo, writes Hussein Haridy

Al-Ahram Weekly

Almost everyone was caught by complete surprise. Early Sunday, 10 July, Egyptians and the world heard the unexpected news that the foreign minister of Egypt, Ambassador Sameh Shoukri, was paying a visit to Israel — the first for such a high level Egyptian official in nine years. The last visit by an Egyptian foreign minister to the Israeli capital dates to 2007. Incidentally, the minister who had made that visit has become the present secretary general of the Arab League.

The news made waves, not only within Egypt and Israel, but also across the Middle East and beyond.

Israeli Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu told a cabinet meeting Sunday morning that the visit of Ambassador Shoukri is indicative of what he termed “positive changes” in Egyptian-Israeli relations. He considered the visit important for a variety of reasons, the most important of which is the call by Egypt’s President Abdel-Fattah Al-Sisi in May to resume peace negotiations between the Israelis and the Palestinians. He informed the cabinet that he was to meet with the Egyptian guest twice that day.

Prior to their first meeting, Mr Netanyahu and Ambassador Shoukri made brief remarks to the press in which the latter made it clear that Cairo is serious in its determination “to provide all possible forms of support” towards reaching the goal of a two-state solution. He added that his visit came within the context of Al-Sisi’s call for a comprehensive agreement between Israel and the Palestinians.

The Israeli prime minister repeated his standing line on peace negotiations with the Palestinians. He called on them to enter into direct negotiations with Israel so the two parties could address outstanding problems between them, and turn the vision of peace “based on two states for two peoples into reality”.

The visit by the Egyptian foreign minister to the Israeli capital has placed Egypt once again at the centre of Middle Eastern politics. The presence of Ambassador Shoukri in Israel indicates that — despite its war on terrorism in Sinai and on its western borders, plus its critical economic problems — Egypt remains a regional and Arab power to reckon with. Decisions concerning war and peace pass through Cairo. This message, indeed, needed to be sent, particularly after the Israeli-Turkish agreement of last week to restore normal diplomatic relations between Tel Aviv and Ankara. The visit by the Egyptian foreign minister to Israel would, hopefully, send a clear message to all parties concerned that the Egyptian role in peace-making in the Middle East is second to none.

In June, the French government convened a conference on peace in the Middle East to which neither the Israelis nor the Palestinians were invited. The Paris conference was attended by the members of the International Quartet (including Russia and China), Egypt and some Arab countries, and the former secretary general of the Arab League. It goes without saying that Mr Ban-Ki moon, the secretary general of the United Nations, was also in attendance. The conference called for another official meeting before the end of 2016 that would include the Palestinians and the Israelis in order to re-launch peace talks between the two sides. Some Israeli media tried to delink Shoukri’s visit from French efforts to resume Palestinian-Israeli peace negotiations. Nothing could be farther from the truth from an Egyptian point of view. In this respect, Cairo is complementing French efforts in this regard.

The visit is also important as an effort on the part of Egypt to fill the void caused by the fact that 2016 is a presidential election year in the United States. For the next six months and till a new American president succeeds President Barack Obama in the Oval Office, it would not be a surprise if the US administration continues its policy of non-intervention relative to the peace process, stalled from April 2014. The next US administration will likely pause at least six months before considering getting involved in peace efforts in the Middle East. These two factors combined have made for a threatening lull in peace efforts between the Palestinians and the Israelis. This is a dangerous situation that could lead to the outbreak of violence in the occupied territories and the Gaza Strip. Nothing would be more serious that letting the status quo remains unchanged with no hope, whatsoever, of a better future for coming Palestinian generations within a sovereign and independent Palestine, side by side with Israel within internationally recognised borders. This is a basic objective of Egyptian diplomacy — to fill that diplomatic gap. The visit by the Egyptian foreign minister aimed at achieving that.

On the other hand, the visit was aimed at reassuring the Israelis so they would not be encouraged to embark on any new military offensives, either against Hamas in the south or Hizbullah in the north. Was it a coincidence that on the day Ambassador Shoukri began his visit to Israel, The Jerusalem Post published a statement by the chief of staff of the Israeli army in which he said that should a confrontation take place with Hizbullah, the army would annihilate it? Egypt does not believe the current regional situation warrants such a confrontation.

In sum, the one-day trip by the Egyptian foreign minister to Israel aimed at securing peace and averting war.

The writer is former assistant to the foreign minister.

add comment

  • follow us on