Tuesday,23 April, 2019
Current issue | Issue 1412, (4 - 10 October 2018)
Tuesday,23 April, 2019
Issue 1412, (4 - 10 October 2018)

Ahram Weekly

A clear, principled strategy

Since President Abdel-Fattah Al-Sisi took office four years ago he repeatedly emphasised that there can be no way forward towards restoring stability in the volatile Middle East region if many of its key nation states suffered disintegration and lawlessness, opening the door wide for terrorist organisations to use them as safe havens and impose their extremist and sectarian agendas.

Thus, preserving and reforming the foundations of the nation state has been a fundamental priority of Egypt’s foreign policy in the Arab region. In his speech before the UN General Assembly last week, the Egyptian president stated that there can be no way out of the crisis in Syria or resolving the plight of Yemen, for example, except by restoring the nation state, preserving its sovereingty, territorial integrity and state institutions, as well as realising the legitimate aspirations of its people.

Considering Egypt’s close and historic ties to both nations, Cairo has rejected any exploitation of these crises to create footholds for regional and international interventions, which have certainly only made those situations much worse, and far more complicated to deal with. 

This same principle applies towards Libya, which borders Egypt and has a direct impact on its national security. Unfortunately, a year has passed since the adoption of the United Nations action plan on Libya, which sought to comprehensively address the Libyan crisis, without progress on its implementation achieved. 

While several regional countries, such as Turkey and Qatar, that have never historically had any relations with Libya, intervened in its affairs, supporting a specific political faction, the Muslim Brotherhood, and fuelling tribalism, Cairo backed efforts to rebuild the Libyan state, and worked on unifying the Libyan armed forces so that it is capable of defending Libya and countering the threat of terrorism. Egypt has paid a heavy price, both in Sinai and all over the country, due to the flow of weapons and terrorist elements coming from Libya, which intensified following the removal of former Libyan leader Muammar Gaddafi in early 2011.

However, the disintegration of states such as Syria, Yemen and Libya are not the only crises that need immediate regional and international attention. The long-standing plight of the Palestinian people who have been living under Israel’s occupation for over five decades is another permanent source of instability, violence and feelings of injustice and double standards in the Middle East.

While Israel and its key supporters in the United States and Europe continue to lecture Arab countries on the need for the respect of human rights and the rule of law, millions of Palestinians are denied their legitimate rights to live in dignity and peace in an independent state, with East Jerusalem as its capital.

The case of occupied Palestine stands as a perfect example of the failure of the international system to find a just solution to the conflict, based on international legitimacy and United Nations resolutions which should be equally applied to all countries in the region. Considering that the world has marked last month the 25th anniversary of the signing of the Oslo Accords between Palestine and Israel at the White House, as well as 40 years of the Camp David agreement between Egypt and Israel, it is certainly absurd that debate continues on the means of settling the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.

The terms of reference and determinants of a final, just settlement to put an end to this classic case of occupation, in a region that has suffered decades of British and French occupation, are well known. There is no time to waste on such a debate. What is required is the political will to resume negotiations and achieve a settlement in accordance with these determinants.

Israel’s current right-wing government is committing a major mistake by refusing to engage in serious negotiations with Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas because of its belief that ending the occupation of Palestine is not an item on the international agenda nowadays, or because Arab countries are consumed with their own internal problems and conflicts. 

As Al-Sisi said in his UN speech last week, “Arabs are still stretching out their hands in peace. Our peoples deserve to turn this tragic page in history, and the Palestinian people deserve to exercise their legitimate rights.”

US President Donald Trump has, for once, struck the right tone in statements last week when he declared his support for the “two-state solution” to settle the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. However, Washington’s practices on the ground, extreme bias to Israel, and the mysterious content of the so-called “deal of the century” which Trump has been promoting since he took office, leave many observers doubtful that upcoming US proposals would be fair to the Palestinian side, or in accordance with their national aspirations. Nevertheless, Egypt will remain loyal to its principled stance and clear strategy, safeguarding its own interest and those of neighbouring Arab countries.

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