Egypt together with the Arab Group in the UN drew up a resolution bill to submit to the Security Council calling for a freeze on Israeli settlement activity in occupied Arab territories, including East Jerusalem. The resolution stated that the settlements constructed on land Israel has occupied since the 1967 war, including in East Jerusalem, had “no legal validity” under international law. However, after US President-elect Donald Trump called on Washington veto the resolution, Egypt withdrew its sponsorship of the bill.
True, Obama is still the US head of state and will continue to direct Washington’s foreign policy until 20 January. However, as of that date, Trump will assume the reins of power for the next four years and perhaps for another four years after that. Therefore, long-term thinking dictated that it would be wiser for Egypt to prioritise the forthcoming interaction with the Trump presidency over the current interaction with the Obama administration in its few remaining weeks.
It is important to bear in mind, too, that that administration’s eight years in power were disastrous for the Arab world. Obama opened his presidency with a visit to Egypt and a very friendly and hope-inspiring address delivered from the podium of Cairo University. In that speech, which he embellished with Quranic verses, he pledged among other things to resolve the Palestinian cause. But not long afterwards, he turned to implementing designs to destroy the largest Arab states. His administration homed in on Syria while trying to follow through on the destruction of Iraq.
The reason the plan did not succeed in Egypt was because the Egyptian people overthrew on 30 June 2013 the clique that served as local co-conspirators. This is the man who oversaw the creation of the Islamic State group (Daesh) in Iraq and Syria, which he helped nurture by partnering with Saudi Arabia, Qatar and Turkey in order to provide that organisation with funds, weapons and manpower. At the same time, he worked to obstruct the progress of the Egyptian people after 30 June.
With regard to his pledge regarding a solution to the Palestinian cause, he took no meaningful action towards this end throughout his eight years in office. Nor did his representative in the UN Security Council vote in favour of a resolution calling for a halt to settlement activities, while his administration did nothing to curb these activities and Israeli aggression against Palestinians in the West Bank and Gaza. Meanwhile, all existing UN resolutions have remained no more than ink on paper because the US never took any action to implement their provisions.
Therefore, from an Egyptian perspective, UN resolutions are not really the crux the issue. The 1947 Partition Resolution was immediately violated by Israel, which proceeded to gobble up twice as much land as granted to it under the plan. Subsequent resolutions, such as UN Security Council resolutions 242 (1967) and 383 (1973), that call on Israel to withdraw from territories it occupied in 1967, have also remained unimplemented because the major powers — and the US above all — helped keep them that way.
Rather, what counts most are efforts to build a network of relations with the major powers in order strengthen Egypt’s bilateral ties and to use these ties in order to promote crucial causes, such as that of Palestine as well as those of Libya, Syria and Yemen. This is why Egypt adopted a forward looking approach and opted to withdraw its sponsorship of the resolution bill in favour of building a strong and sophisticated network of relations with the forthcoming Trump administration. This will better position the Egyptian government to discuss with that administration ways to promote a solution to the Palestinian cause on the lines of the initiative launched by President Abdel-Fattah Al-Sisi during his visit to Assiut four months ago.
However, the Obama administration, which was determined both to embarrass Egypt and to nettle Trump by defying his call for a veto, instructed Washington’s ambassador to the UN to abstain. Therefore, when the resolution came to a vote, Egypt was compelled to vote in favour, enabling it to pass with a unanimous 14 votes plus one abstention.
We should note that the resolution also calls on the Palestinians to halt violence and incitement to violence against Israel, rubric that is most often used to refer to the Palestinian militant resistance.
On the whole, Egypt took the right approach to the resolution that was being put to the Security Council just as the Obama administration was packing its bags and in the process of the handover to Trump. Egyptian diplomacy was intelligent and realistic. It responded to a call by the next US president, thereby helping to lay the foundations for good relations between Cairo and Washington, which will come as a relief after the years of “drought” under Obama. Perhaps this will not only serve the interests of the Palestinian cause, but also usher in the stability needed to enable the states and societies of this region to recover and develop after the many years of attrition due to warfare and terrorism. Still, the key to these aspirations remains a just solution to the Palestinian cause.