- Several countries including France and the United States are counting on Egypt, a historic and indispensable mediator, to come out of the escalation of violence between the Gaza Strip and Israel.
- If Egypt has always been a privileged interlocutor during tensions between the two populations, its discourse is different today than in the past.
- His firm stance towards Israel and the attitude of Benjamin Netanyahu could complicate negotiations and the way out of the crisis.
As Israel and Palestine begin a new week of violence, Emmanuel Macron received Egyptian President Abdel Fattah Al-Sisi on Monday in order to “support ongoing Egyptian mediation” in the conflict. Like the United States and many countries, the Elysee believes that Egypt can play a key role in stopping this “spiral of violence”. A few days ago, an American official confirmed on condition of anonymity that the United States was increasing contacts with Egypt in order to find a resolution to the conflict.
If Egypt appears to be one of the only possible mediators in the current situation, its mission is far from won for Marie Kortam, researcher and sociologist at the French Institute for the Near East in Beirut in Lebanon (IFPO).
Why is Egypt a key mediator in resolving new Israeli-Palestinian tensions?
The international community has no other choice but to go through Egypt because it is the main, essential and historical mediator of this conflict. It is first and foremost the only country to have a border with Israel and Gaza. Gaza is surrounded by the State of Israel, except for the Rafah crossing, which borders Egypt. So Egypt is sort of the conductor of what goes in and out of Gaza. Egypt is in good relation with all the Palestinian factions and not just some of the political actors. In recent years, Hamas has clarified its relationship with Egypt by showing its Palestinian side much more than the Muslim Brotherhood. Egypt has played a role for years in the inter-Palestinian dialogue between the Fatah current and the reformist current with Hamas.
Egypt is also a privileged interlocutor of Israel with whom it has peaceful relations since the peace agreement. Egypt was the first Arab country to have signed this agreement in 1979. It recognizes from Israel as a state. We could not ask another Arab country, which does not recognize Israel to be the mediator in this conflict.
However, I don’t think Emmanuel Macron wishes to discuss with Abdel Fattah Al-Sisi, but I think he receives him instead to put pressure on Egypt’s discourse on the new conflict.
What has changed today in Egypt’s discourse in the face of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict?
The current Egyptian position is the opposite of that adopted in the Gaza war in 2014. Egypt has publicly and officially reprimanded Israel. At the start of the current crisis, Cairo sent many strong messages, asking it in particular to stop the “aggression” against Hamas, that is the term literally translated, as well as the attempts to expel the inhabitants of Jerusalem. . For the first time, Cairo is defending or at least trying to understand the position of the Palestinians and Hamas. Egypt also opened the Rafah crossing point to receive wounded Palestinians and send ambulances to the Gaza Strip. This was not the case in 2014.
This change of position is most likely linked to the recent Israeli-Emirati operation which harms Egypt. Namely all standardization agreements between Israel and the United Arab Emirates. We know that the Emiraties are trying to take a bit of Egypt’s role in the region, for example with the project of a new canal, which could compete with the Suez Canal. The Egyptian authorities have expressed their concerns about this and Cairo is therefore carrying out a discreet reassessment of its alliances in the region.
Is the success of the mediation by Egypt therefore compromised?
Egypt’s foreign minister said a few days ago at the Arab League meeting that on the basis of Egypt’s national responsibility to the Palestinian people and their just cause, Egypt would not remain silent on all Israel’s violations. He said he sent messages to Israel urging them to make all possible efforts to prevent the deterioration of the situation in Jerusalem, but he did not receive a satisfactory response.
There was an Egyptian delegation to Israel, it offered Tel Aviv a truce for a year on condition that Cairo monitors and coordinates it. But the delegation met with an Israeli refusal, in particular because Egypt asked in return for Israel to stop the settlements and to stop supporting the militants in the assault on the al-Aqsa mosque.
Benjamin Netanyahu is not listening because he has nothing more to lose. With all the accusations against him, the trials, he knows he will not be reelected and tries to play one last card he has by rallying the far right with him. This complicates Egypt’s task as a mediator to find a resolution to the conflict.