Blinken meets with Sisi, signals closer cooperation on Palestinian issue

Meeting with American diplomatic staff afterwards, the US Secretary of State described Egypt as a “real and effective partner.”
Wednesday 26/05/2021
US Secretary of State Antony Blinken (L) meets with Egypt’s President Abdel Fattah al-Sisi at the Heliopolis Presidential Palace on May 26, 2021. (AFP)
US Secretary of State Antony Blinken (L) meets with Egypt’s President Abdel Fattah al-Sisi at the Heliopolis Presidential Palace on May 26, 2021. (AFP)

CAIRO — US Secretary of State Antony Blinken arrived in Jordan Wednesday after meeting with Egyptian President Abdelfattah el-Sisi in Cairo.

Amman is the last leg of a Mideast tour that aims to shore up an Egypt-brokered ceasefire between Israel and Palestinian militants in Gaza.

In Egypt, Blinken on Wednesday met with Sisi for nearly two hours, Foreign Minister Sameh Shoukry and Egyptian intelligence head Abbas Kamel.

Egypt, which shares a border with Gaza and has security contacts with Hamas, is likely to have a role in channeling aid, a senior US State Department official said.

During the fighting, Egypt opened the Rafah border crossing between Gaza and its Sinai Peninsula in order to provide medical aid and evacuate the wounded.

Meeting with American diplomatic staff afterwards, he described Egypt as a “real and effective partner” that helped end the Gaza war and is helping “build something positive.” Sisi spoke to President Joe Biden last week before and after the ceasefire was announced.

“I think we both believe strongly that Palestinians and Israelis deserve equally to, to live in safety and security to enjoy equal measures of freedom, opportunity and dignity. And we’re working on that together,” Blinken said before departing to Jordan.

Both Egypt and Jordan are key US allies that have peace agreements with Israel and frequently serve as mediators between Israel and the Palestinians. Egypt maintains ties with Hamas, but also enforces a tight blockade on Gaza aimed at putting the brakes on the militant group’s armament drive.

The stop in Cairo, along with Biden’s phone talks with Sisi, signal a closer relationship between the two countries after a cooler beginning, when the US focused on Sisi’s human rights record.

After meeting Egyptian President Abdel Fattah al-Sisi — whom he praised for helping bring an end to the intense violence “relatively quickly” — he departed for Jordan for talks with King Abdullah II.

The US top diplomat already met Tuesday with Israeli and Palestinian leaders, to throw Washington’s support behind the truce that ended 11 days of heavy Israeli bombing of Gaza and rocket fire from the enclave into Israel.

After talks with Palestinian president Mahmud Abbas at his headquarters in the Israeli-occupied West Bank, Blinken vowed to rebuild US relations with the Palestinians by reopening a consulate in Jerusalem, as well as giving millions in aid for the war-battered Gaza Strip.

The announcements signalled a break with US policy under former president Donald Trump, who had shuttered the diplomatic mission for Palestinians in 2019 and slashed aid to the Palestinian Authority.

In the long term, Blinken evoked the “possibility of resuming the effort to achieve a two-state solution, which we continue to believe is the only way to truly assure Israel’s future as a Jewish and democratic state, and of course to give the Palestinians the state they’re entitled to”.

British Foreign Secretary Dominic Raab meanwhile travelled to Jerusalem Wednesday, urging an end to the “cycle of violence” through a two-state solution to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.

After meeting Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, he reiterated support for Israel’s “right to defend itself” against rocket attacks by Gaza’s Hamas rulers, adding that they must not benefit from the reconstruction aid.

— Egypt’s “vital” role —

On Wednesday, he met with Sisi, with Blinken later saying both “believe strongly that Palestinians and Israelis deserve equally to live in safety and security”, and that “Egypt is vital to these aspirations”.

Unlike the United States and many European governments, which boycott Gaza’s ruling Hamas movement which they consider a “terrorist group”, Egypt maintains regular contacts.

Egypt was also the first Arab country to sign a peace treaty with Israel in 1979, with Jordan following suit in 1994.

Cairo has sent delegations to both Tel Aviv and Gaza to watch over the implementation of the ceasefire, and has also been coordinating international relief and reconstruction aid for the Palestinian territory, which has been under Israeli blockade for nearly 15 years.

Blinken said Wednesday the United Sates was in the process of providing more than $360 million in assistance to the Palestinian people, including $250 million announced in March and April.

On top of that, the administration intended to provide $75 million in additional aid to the Palestinians, as well as $5.5 million in immediate disaster assistance for Gaza, and nearly $33 million for an emergency humanitarian appeal by the UN agency for Palestinian refugees.

“All of these funds will be administered in a way that benefits the Palestinian people — not Hamas, which has only brought misery and despair to Gaza,” Blinken said.

Last week, Sisi pledged $500 million to help reconstruction efforts in Gaza.