Sunday,23 September, 2018
Current issue | Issue 1224, (4 - 10 December 2014)
Sunday,23 September, 2018
Issue 1224, (4 - 10 December 2014)

Ahram Weekly

Abbas and the ISIS scheme

Arab heavyweights are backing Abbas’s Palestinian Authority, not in the hope of reaching a final status deal with Israel, but in order to focus on ISIS and militant threats, Dina Ezzat reports

Al-Ahram Weekly

Whatever is going to be done now will only be a temporary measure; it is impossible to imagine that a final deal for the Arab-Israeli struggle, or for the struggle between ruling Arab regimes and their Islamist opponents, can be reached soon. This is the basic argument that diplomats, Egyptians and others, working on regional developments are offering.

They add, in so many different words but in a consistent line of thought, that the priority now should be on the war against radical militant groups, like ISIS (the Islamic State in Iraq and Syria) and others. For some, quite openly, this is a priority over the struggle with Israel to recover basic Palestinian rights.

“Let us face it; Israel is a reality. It is a state that has the support of the largest number of UN members, and of course of the strongest countries of the world. We cannot go to war with Israel and win, but we can gradually extract as many rights — or if you wish to call it gains — from Israel as we possibly could,” said a Palestinian Authority (PA) diplomat.

This, he stated confidently, is not only the thinking of the PA and its ultimately politically pragmatic chairman, Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas, but also “that of all Arab capitals”.

He added: “Cairo has been thinking this way under [the rule of the two consecutively ousted presidents] Mubarak and Morsi, just as it is thinking this way now,” under the rule of Abdel-Fattah Al-Sisi.

“It is not about what we prefer; it is rather about what we can deliver,” the PA diplomat said.

With this mind set, Palestinian and other Arab, including Egyptian, diplomats are speaking of “intensive and progressing” consultations that bring together the PA, Israel, Egypt, Jordan, the US and the EU.

These consultations were the core of talks held this week in Cairo by Abbas, who attended an extraordinary Arab League meeting on Palestinian developments, and Jordanian King Abdullah, who met with Al-Sisi during a brief visit in the confines of Cairo International Airport.

Diplomats’ accounts on any prospective deal when it comes to Israel vary — at times quite considerably. Some, including the Egyptians, speak of direct Cairo-hosted, US-sponsored high-level Palestinian-Israeli talks to agree on a new blueprint for a relatively long-term deal that would widen the scope and expand the influence of PA control and allow for a considerable easing of the siege imposed on Gaza, under PA — not Hamas — supervision.

Others, including the Europeans, speak of a deal that would allow the PA a larger exercise of power over its territories, Gaza included, and wider international recognition of a “nascent” Palestinian state that would be subject to the supervision and rules of the international community.

In the first and second narratives there is not much room for Hamas or other Palestinian Islamist resistance and political factions.

“This is the preference of the Arab capitals, the big Arab capitals, and it is also the preference of Israel. It is not up to us in Europe to argue against the agreement of the countries of the region, especially that Palestinian reconciliation has not been possible so far,” said a Cairo-based European ambassador.

“We had tried to include Hamas. We showed some good gestures, but unfortunately Hamas and other Islamist groups are only acting to serve an Islamist and not a national interest. We cannot tolerate this. We certainly cannot tolerate what we have evidence to believe it is a coordinated effort between Hamas and other radical Islamic groups in the region — not necessarily ISIS but certainly Hizbullah, which is a militant group,” said an Egyptian diplomat.

He added that when President Al-Sisi argued in an interview with a French news channel that he believes all political Islamic groups to be of the same mind set, one way or the other, he did mean the Muslim Brotherhood, Hamas, Hizbullah, “and all the rest”.

The joint objective of containing the Palestinian-Israeli struggle and the influence of Islamic groups in the Middle East is something that capitals like Riyadh and Cairo would agree on, but they might not necessarily share a consensus on methods to best deliver this end.

“Cairo is convinced that to have this double objective delivered in the near future, calls to eliminate the regime of Bashar Al-Assad have to be suspended for now, and that the political battle with Iran has to be managed in a less aggressive style, while Riyadh, whose wishes are not something Cairo can overlook, is not willing to go this path,” said a Western political source.

He added that disagreement over the handling of Iran — “that is inching closer towards a deal with the West, probably during 2015” — and its key ally in Damascus is something that is subject to disagreement not just between Cairo and Riyadh but also among the ruling regimes of North Africa and the regimes of the Gulf Cooperation Council.

Still, say Egyptian diplomats, Cairo, Amman and Riyadh (the third being the official sponsor of the 2002 Arab Peace Initiative) are considering making an “offer”. One diplomat said it could be qualified as an initiative for direct Palestinian-Israeli talks that could start in February next year with the hope of having some clear parameters decided for the Arab League meeting in the first week of March 2015.

If this objective is attained — and all sources agree that the “if” is still very much in place — then Arab regimes could have an easier time coordinating views on how to handle Iran and Al-Assad in view of the developments of Tehran’s talks with the West and the state of affairs in key Arab countries, which according to Western diplomats are not so settled yet.

French parliament for Palestinian statehood

FRANCE’s Socialist-led parliament on Tuesday passed a symbolic vote recognising the State of Palestine. The vote is, nevertheless, non-binding. However, it sends a signal that Israelis and Palestinians must return to the negotiating table, following the collapse of United States-mediated statehood talks in April. The proposal was passed with 339 votes in favour and 151 against.

French Foreign Minister Laurent Fabius has supported the vote, setting a two-year deadline for the creation of an independent Palestine.

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