Tuesday, July 12, 2016

Egypt likely to play greater role in Mideast peace after FM's rare visit to Israel

Egypt is likely to play a greater mediation role in reviving the Middle East peace process between the Palestinians and Israel after the recent rare visit of the country's foreign minister to Tel Aviv, said Egyptian political experts.

Egyptian Foreign Minister Sameh Shoukry held lengthy talks with Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu on Sunday in the Israeli capital city during the rare visit, the first for an Egyptian foreign minister to Tel Aviv since 2007.


"The Talks included presentation of the Egyptian vision to revive the Palestinian-Israeli peace process and the means to carry out President Sisi's vision on the necessity of reaching a comprehensive, just solution for the Palestinian issue," the Egyptian Foreign Ministry said in a statement Monday.

The peace process has been idle since US Secretary of State John Kerry failed to broker negotiations between the Israelis and the Palestinians in late April 2014 after his nine-month quest.

In mid-May, Egyptian President Abdel-Fattah al-Sisi urged both the Palestinians and the Israelis to take historic steps towards peace, stressing that if efforts are combined, a solution can be reached "to find hope for the Palestinians and security for the Israelis."

"I tell both the Palestinians and the Israelis that there is a great chance for a better future, a better life, more stability and greater cooperation," the Egyptian president added.

Tarek Fahmy, a political science professor and expert at the National Center for Middle East Studies, described Shoukry's visit to Israel as "generally successful," expecting Egypt to offer a comprehensive initiative apart from the Arab and French ones.

Lasting for about seven decades, the Palestinian-Israeli conflict has long been a major concern in the turmoil-stricken Middle East region.

A Saudi-led Arab peace initiative in 2002 urged Israel to fully withdraw from the Palestinian territories occupied since 1967 in return for normal relations with the Arab world. However, Israel rejected the initiative.

A recent French initiative to bring both sides to negotiations managed to hold an international conference in Paris earlier in June at the level of foreign ministers, but the whole idea was declined by Israel that prefers direct talks with the Palestinians without international pressures.

However, Sisi's mediation seems to appeal more to the Israeli side as Netanyahu did not hesitate to welcome the Egyptian approach to end the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.

"The new thing is that Egypt is offering its own approach regardless of the Arab and French initiatives, and I believe that both the Israel and Palestinian sides showed positive response to the Egyptian mediation," the expert told Xinhua.

Fahmy expects Cairo's efforts to end up with hosting a regional conference to be attended by Israeli, Palestinian and Arab parties while Egypt is offering "a list of incentives" to encourage the conflicting sides, such as returning the dead bodies of a couple of Israeli soldiers kept by Hamas in the Gaza Strip.

The Arab League said Monday that the Palestinian cause will be the focus of the coming Arab summit in Mauritania later this month.


"The peace process is no longer restricted to its traditional parties after the so-called Arab Spring uprisings, as there are now regional changes where the security issue is the basic factor," said Ahmed Eliba, a researcher at the Cairo-based Regional Center for Strategic Studies.

Eliba added that the current approach between Cairo and Tel Aviv is mainly motivated by security threats, given the ongoing chaos in several regional states including Syria, Iraq, Libya, Yemen and South Sudan and the growing terrorist activities of the regional Islamic State (IS) militant group.

"The Palestinian cause is one of the main reasons for terror and security crises in the region as it is used as an excuse by terrorist groups for their operations," Eliba told Xinhua, adding Israel helps some Arab states with information regarding fighting the IS.

The expert said the real path for the Middle East peace process has not yet been started, where Egypt will play a key role and Saudi Arabia will also be there, noting the old Arab peace initiative may have a role in the coming negotiations "but will not be the only reference."

For his part, Mohamed Gomaa, researcher of Palestinian and Israeli studies at Cairo-based Al-Ahram Center for Political and Strategic studies, said that the stalemated peace process and the relevant political vacancy may lead to violence between the conflicting sides.

"Egypt and some Arab parties are concerned that the political vacancy regarding the Palestinian issue may be filled by deadly fighting, and so they exert all possible efforts to return them to the negotiation table," Gomaa told Xinhua.

The researcher said that relations between Cairo and Tel Aviv noticeably improved over the past couple of years, yet it is difficult for Egypt to disregard the Palestinian issue that is a source of regional security threats.

A couple of months ago, an Israeli military official said that there is "unprecedented level of cooperation" between Israel and Egypt in terms of intelligence.

"Egypt cannot afford escalation of violence in the adjacent Palestinian Gaza Strip while it is engaged in an anti-terrorism war in the Sinai Peninsula," Gomaa argued, stressing Egypt and other Arab partners are keen on reviving the Palestinian-Israeli negotiations to avoid eruption of violence even if they do not see a soon settlement in the horizon.
 [Xinhua -globaltimes.cn]

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