Cairo to attend Manama meeting, even as it voices reservations

“Egypt will not approve of anything the Palestinians reject," said Egyptian President Abdel Fattah al-Sisi.
Sunday 16/06/2019
Egyptian President Abdel Fattah al-Sisi. (AFP)
Egyptian President Abdel Fattah al-Sisi. (AFP)

CAIRO - Egypt’s possible participation at a conference on the economic incentives of a US Middle East peace plan, scheduled for late June in Bahrain, would carry weight, given Cairo’s strategic and political importance in the region.

Cairo must attend such an event since it is a principal party to Israeli-Palestinian peacemaking, political analysts said.

“Egypt has to be present, even if it has reservations about the way the whole thing is managed,” said Tarek al-Kholi, a member of the Foreign Relations Committee in the Egyptian parliament.

He said, however, that Egyptian participation in the conference would not mean that Egypt approves of the “Deal of the Century,” a blueprint propagated by US President Donald Trump and designed by his son-in-law and adviser Jared Kushner.

Egyptian President Abdel Fattah al-Sisi, speaking June 2, raised speculation about his country’s position on the blueprint June 2 when he said Egypt backed the cause of the Palestinians and the positions they took to determine their own destiny.

“Egypt will not approve of anything the Palestinians reject,” Sisi said.

He scoffed at reports that Egypt would give parts of Sinai to the Palestinians as part of any US plan. Looking at Sinai Bedouins attending the event where he was speaking, Sisi asked: “Will you give anything to anyone?”

The plan, even though details haven’t been released, has received a series of blows, including the failure of Israeli Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu’s bid to form a new government after his April election victory.

Sisi’s allusion to Cairo’s potential rejection of the US peace plan, if it doesn’t fit the Palestinians’ criteria of a just settlement, derives from Palestinian opposition to the plan.

The Palestinian Authority (PA) has said, on numerous occasions, that it would not accept a settlement if it didn’t name East Jerusalem the capital of the aspired Palestinian state.

PA spokesman Nabil Abu Rudaina has described the blueprint as “sterile” and said, of the planned Manama gathering, that an economic plan for solving the conflict without a political vision would lead to nothing.

Little is known about the deal but Kushner and US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo have had a tough time selling the deal to Arab leaders, media reports said.

White House officials said the deal would be unveiled after the Israeli elections, which took place in April. They then backtracked and said the details of the deal would be announced after Ramadan.

However, Netanyahu’s inability to form a government is another setback for the deal and there is uncertainty in some parts of the region over Trump’s ability to win a second term in the presidency next year.

Some Egyptian analysts said the US blueprint for liquidating rather than solving the Palestinian-Israeli conflict has started going into effect in an irreversible manner.

“The first step on the road of implementing the blueprint started when the US recognised Israel’s sovereignty over the Syrian Golan Heights in March this year,” said Emad Gad, a senior researcher at Egyptian think-tank Ahram for Political and Strategic Studies. “Trump implemented another part of the deal a year earlier when he ordered the relocation of the US Embassy in Tel Aviv to Jerusalem.”

Both moves were rejected by Cairo, which warned against their ramifications on the situation in the region.

In March, Egypt said the Golan Heights was occupied Arab territory and warned that a change of its status would fuel conflicts in the region. It said the same about the relocation of the US Embassy to Jerusalem.

In February, Egyptian Foreign Minister Sameh Shoukry said his country did not have details as far as the “Deal of the Century” was concerned.

In October 2017, Shoukry told the Egyptian Arabic daily Ahram that the deal did not mean that Egypt would give any territory to anybody. “Sometimes things are said to be trial balloons to find out whether they can be put on the table,” Shoukry said.

Egypt’s participation at the Bahrain meeting is important for many reasons, analysts said. Egypt was the first Arab country to sign a peace treaty with Israel. It shares borders with the Jewish state. Cairo has strong contacts with the Palestinians of Gaza and the occupied West Bank. It is also in close coordination with Tel Aviv.

Analysts said, however, this participation wouldn’t change Egypt’s policy of demanding a settlement to the Palestinian-Israeli conflict that is satisfactory to the Palestinians, analysts said.

“The only satisfactory settlement will be one that allows the Palestinians to establish their independent state within the pre-1967 borders,” said Akram Badreddine, a political science professor at Cairo University. “This state must also have East Jerusalem as its capital.”