Cairo needs Hamas’s cooperation to block the ‘deal of the century’

De-escalation between the Palestinian resistance and Israel is a key element in the Egyptian strategy.
Sunday 22/07/2018
High stakes. Egyptian President Abdel Fattah al-Sisi (R) meets with US President Donald Trump’s special envoy Jason Greenblatt (L) and adviser Jared Kushner (2nd-L) in Cairo. (Egyptian Presidency)
High stakes. Egyptian President Abdel Fattah al-Sisi (R) meets with US President Donald Trump’s special envoy Jason Greenblatt (L) and adviser Jared Kushner (2nd-L) in Cairo. (Egyptian Presidency)

The recent Middle Eastern trip made by US President Donald Trump’s Senior Adviser Jared Kushner and Special Representative for International Negotiations Jason Greenblatt has shown that the “deal of the century” will prove to be a hard pill to swallow because of its Israel bias and its opportunistic exploitation of the deteriorating Arab and Palestinian situations.

The Arab position can be extreme at times but rejects the deal as it stands. Even the “take what you can get then demand more” approach and manoeuvring around the deal are not options this time because any apparent endorsement for the deal will be taken as full approval. Since the Palestinian cause is a matter of regional security, such approval can cause embarrassment for the involved parties.

Egypt is at the forefront of countries that expressed refusal of the deal. Of course, it hasn’t officially informed Washington for diplomatic reasons but the reservations expressed to Kushner and Greenblatt in Cairo undermine the deal’s political aspects, which crucially rely on Egypt’s support.

Those who cooked up the deal must have been amateurs. They must have been unfamiliar with the historical dimension and naively thought they could shove a biased deal down everybody’s throat by taking advantage of the deteriorating social and economic conditions in Gaza as well as of the rift between the Palestinian Authority and Hamas, plus the latter’s readiness to escalate tension with Israel to stay in command in Gaza.

Aware of the stakes involved, Cairo blocked the path for a deal that purports to be the only solution available to the Palestinian question. It moved on several fronts so it does not end up being cornered into accepting a deal that works against its strategic interests.

On one front, Cairo is trying to relieve the economic pressure in Gaza and stop the political auctioning of the human tragedy there.

Many other countries have jumped on the opportunity. Qatar tried to open a channel for negotiations between Israel and Hamas. Turkey extended a helping hand to its brethren in Gaza and Iran inflated its anti-Israel rhetoric.

Egypt was the first to see that Gaza’s misery is one back path for sneaking in the deal of the century. The economic approach to the Palestinian question saw the light when the countries mentioned above began a political feeding frenzy on Gaza’s misery. To increase the human pressure and gauge its effect on morale in Gaza, Israel closed the Karm Abu Salem Crossing.

It’s up to Cairo to find an appropriate solution to the crisis in Gaza. The problem with that is that it relieves Israel of its responsibilities as an occupying force and gives credibility to claims that Egypt could have helped Gaza by breaking its siege before it became too late.

Such claims were made by Qatar and Turkey, which preferred to ignore the fact that Gaza had become a gathering point for extremists who sneaked into Sinai through tunnels. They also forgot that Gaza’s economy boomed once the tunnels were destroyed, security agreements with Hamas negotiated and terrorists driven out of Sinai.

Egypt moved on the front of a Palestinian reconciliation. Cairo hosted a meeting between Fatah and Hamas but nothing came of it. The visit of the two delegations, however, left the impression that the Palestinians want a national reconciliation and that a political process towards that end could be started. The Egyptians were convinced that Palestinian reconciliation is the best shield against the defective deal of the century.

De-escalation between the Palestinian resistance and Israel is a key element in the Egyptian strategy. The last thing Cairo wants to offer the deal of the century is more destruction and misery in Gaza.

Many hurdles stand in the way of Cairo’s strategies. Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas and the Palestinian Authority are reluctant to coordinate their efforts with Hamas and claim Egypt was bypassing them because its direct interests are at stake. Such an attitude casts doubts on the impartiality of the Egyptian side in brokering the Palestinian reconciliation. Fatah also cannot understand why all this bending backward to please Hamas and that makes it weary of making concessions in Gaza.

Hamas has reacted rather favourably to Cairo’s efforts on the economic front, the reconciliation front and the de-escalation front but nothing is guaranteed with Hamas. It can easily withdraw from the process once it lays its hands on more cards or finds a partner that allows it to maintain its authority in Gaza.

Cairo is going to find it difficult to stop the deal of the century unless it guarantees Hamas’s unwavering support. Observers are not banking on it given the movement’s experiences. Unless all Palestinian factions realise that agreement and concessions among them are crucial, Cairo’s efforts to block the deal of the century will remain in limbo.

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