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Al-Sisi Takes the Lead

Egypt has a big stake in seeing the Israeli-Palestinian conflict resolved
By The News · 22 of February 2017 09:25:54
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A very wise man once told me that when it comes to resolving the conflict between Israel and the Palestinians, “there can be no peace without Egypt, and no war without Egypt.”

He was right.

Egypt’s potential role in mediating Middle East peace cannot be underestimated.

Egypt, which was the first Arab state to conclude a peace treaty with Israel (brokered by the United States in 1979), has not only the regional clout, but also the political credibility of all concerned, and its president, Abdel Fattah al-Sisi, has publicly expressed his willingness to serve as a key negotiator in reconciling the various Palestinian factions in order to help set the groundwork for a feasible and viable two-state solution.

At the cost of significant political capital at home for himself and his government, al-Sisi has offered to help broker a blueprint and timetable for the realization of Mideast peace.

And as an incentive to push Jerusalem toward accepting that offer, al-Sisi has promised closer economic and political cooperation with Israel should the Palestinian issue be resolved.

Both the Palestinians and Israelis welcomed al-Sisi’s offer, and both Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas and Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu have acknowledged the Egyptian president’s extraordinary leadership.

And al-Sisi has already proven his grit as a can-do leader capable of reinstating political stability and economic growth in a country thrashed by two violent social uprisings in less than two years and a string of brutal terror attacks.

Egypt, which has tactfully managed to keep a neutral observer role in the mounting Sunni-Shi’ite faceoff that has been escalating between Saudi Arabia and Iran, is the ideal mediator, open and receptive to the demands and concerns of all involved.

Al-Sisi also has the ear and respect of Russian President Vladimir Putin and Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan.

And while al-Sisi was summarily dismissed by the Barack Obama White House, the administration of Donald J. Trump sees him and his government as a key strategic ally in both his war on the Islamic State and its goal to finally resolve the Israeli-Palestinian stalemate.

Earlier this month, Ismail Haniyah, the top official of Hamas, the ruling Palestinian movement of the Gaza Strip, paid a visit to Cairo to meet with Egyptian government leaders on issues of security and political authorities, including Israel’s ongoing economic blockade of Gaza, energy shortages and Palestinian reconciliation.

It was the first such visit in three years.

Egyptian relations with Hamas had frayed dramatically following the 2013 military ouster of Muslim Brotherhood President Muhammad Morsi, but al-Sisi now seems to have mended many of the wounds that Morsi’s overthrow provoked.

Finally, Egypt has a stake — a big stake — in seeing the Israeli-Palestinian conflict resolved, because everything that happens in the region directly affects Cairo’s own stability and security.

Last month, more than 70 countries and international organizations met in Paris to draft a roadmap for Middle East peace.

But neither the Palestinians nor the Israelis were present, and without the active participation of the key players, there is little chance that that the Paris-brokered two-state solution will be heeded.

Al-Sisi’s approach is to act as a mediator between the two sides, not to impose highfaluting policies that are conscripted by outside parties.

He understands the security concerns of Israel and can pressure the Palestinians to hold up their end of any bargain he may help negotiate.

And he can hold his own against Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and will not give in on his country’s core commitment to not redraw the geographic demarcations that were in place in 1967.

Al-Sisi is fair and a political pragmatist, and knows that both sides are going to have to budge in order to find peace.

Both Israel and the Palestinians see al-Sisi as an honest broker, with a solid understanding of current geopolitical realities.

There can be no denying that al-Sisi already has a lot on his political plate, with a still-recovering Egyptian economy and an onslaught of brazen terror strikes at home.

Getting the Israelis and the Palestinians to see eye-to-eye on a comprehensive and sustainable two-state solution will be no easy task.

But if anyone is up to the job, it is al-Sisi, and given the current international political landscape, right now might just be the best time for Egypt to act.

Thérèse Margolis can be reached at therese.margolis@gmail.com.