What Do Al-Sisi And Netanyahu Want From The Peace Process Talks?

After a decade of stalemate in the peace process between the Palestinians and Israel, talks about reviving the peace process has recently re-emerged.

Egypt seems to act as a major player in pushing the peace process especially after al-Sisi sent his foreign minister to Jerusalem this week and the talk about a possible visit to Cairo by the Israeli Prime Minister.

The Washington Post reported that the U.S. has given al-Sisi the green light to handle this file and thus encouraging al-Sisi’s outreach as,”U.S Secretary of State John F. Kerry and the White House have essentially given up trying to broker a deal in the remaining months of the Obama presidency.”

In this context, Egyptian Emissary Sameh Shoukry met not once but twice with Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu in this visit which is the first by an Egyptian foreign minister in nine years.

The first time was at a broad bilateral meeting and later for an intimate dinner at the official residence, where the two men watched some minutes of European Championship soccer together, according to photographs released by Israel’s Government Press Office.

The latest visit atmosphere shows close ties between Egypt and Israel that suggest a broader role to be played by Egypt in this file during the coming period especially that talks on Israeli-Palestinian peace initiatives are suddenly appearing everywhere.

Itzhak Levanon, a former Israeli ambassador to Egypt said, “After the United States, Egypt is the more plausible player to take on the role of shuttle diplomacy between the Israelis and Palestinians.”

Prior to Shoukry’s historical  visit to Israel, Shoukry went to Ramallah, in the West Bank, to meet the Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas, who is running out of ways to confront Israel’s almost 50-year occupation and finds himself more unpopular than ever among his people, according to recent public-
opinion surveys.

The WP reported that Palestinian and Israeli diplomats say al-Sisi is interested in reviving the peace talk by getting the two sides to produce “confidence-building” measures that could de-escalate the conflict,” which has been rubbed raw by 10 months of “lone wolf” knife, gun and vehicular attacks by Palestinian youths against Israeli soldiers and civilians and by tough Israeli responses, including “mistakes” in which Israeli forces shot up cars filled with innocents,” according to WP.

However, Confidence-building measures may include some concessions from the Israeli part as freezing construction of Jewish settlements in the West Bank or Palestinians muzzling incitement to martyrdom.
Shoukry said, “Ever since the cessation of negotiations between Israel and the Palestinians in 2014, the situation on the ground has been in constant deterioration on the humanitarian, economic and security levels.” He continued,“The dream of peace and security moves further out of reach as long as the conflict continues.”

But the question is whether both sides are ready for such concessions? Is there a possible chance for a real peace process or it is just a political maneuver played by different actors to gain political benefit inside or outside their countries?

In fact, since the 2013 military coup that brought al-Sisi to power, Israeli army commanders have been telling journalists that military-to-military cooperation has never been better between the two armies and their intelligence services.

Both countries face a common enemy in with the presence of Islamist extremism on the Sinai Peninsula, where Sinai Province a group affiliated with the Islamic State(ISIS) started to expand in the peninsula with  many Bedouin tribes have pledged loyalty to the group.

Bedouin tribes have been evacuated from their homes by the Egyptian military forces and they have been targetted by Egypt’s airforce in their fights against terrorism which made some of those tribes  them sympathizes to host members of Sinai Province.

In addition, Israel is facing a restive European Union which is backing a French initiative refused by Israel as it   seeks to outline a future peace deal by year’s end that would probably include a call for the withdrawal of Israeli troops and the creation of a Palestinian state. Israel also fear that the U.N. Security Council might again hear resolutions about the conflict.

Moreover, Netanyahu, leading one of the most right-wing governments in Israeli history, said that he opposes the French gambit and other international efforts, such as parallel moves in the United Nations. The prime minister insisted  that only “direct bilateral talks without preconditions” can produce a lasting peace.

The Palestinians do not trust the Israeli counterpart in the light of  Netanyahu’s famous pledge, on the eve of his historic election to a fourth term as prime minister, that there would never be a Palestinian state on his watch.

A Palestinian diplomat who spoke on the condition of anonymity because of the sensitivity of discussions cites what Abbas once said,“The Israelis are doing their best to prove there’s no need for the French initiative.”

The al-Mesryoon newspaper in Cairo quoted one academic’s decrying of Egypt’s bid — “another nail in the coffin of the Arabs” — and another calling Sisi’s outreach “a positive step in resolving the Israeli-Palestinian crisis.”

Accordingly, some observers believe that there is no peace process and that it’s a political maneuver by both parties for different reasons. Mira Tzoreff, a senior lecturer in the Middle East and African history at Tel Aviv University, cautioned, “This is not an Israeli-Palestinian issue. It is an Israeli-Egyptian-Palestinian issue.”

She said Egypt is a unique player. “There might be a French initiative or a Saudi one, but only Egypt is accepted by both,” Tzoreff said.Israel wants to push away the French initiative by opening the door for any Egyptian move to hinder the time in talks and conferences.

On the other side, al-Sisi will benefit by showing his western allies that he can act as an effective regional player, she continued,“This is a clear message to the Americans that Sisi is a leader who can do something not only inside Egypt but also outside. Sisi is succeeding where the United States has failed.”

In this context,”al- Sisi has  called on Israel’s warring political parties to create a coalition for a peace deal with the Palestinians, which in turn would be backed by the Arab states.In the middle of this is former British prime minister Tony Blair, who serves as an informal adviser to Sisi. Blair, facing public outrage at home for his decision to wage war in Iraq, continues to be a bit player in the Middle East dramas. Blair arrived in Jerusalem to meet with Netanyahu,” reported The Washington Post.

Moreover, it is Egypt’s chance to stand to the Israeli side due to different changes in the region, according to Levanon, the former Israeli ambassador to Egypt who said, “The Egyptians see we have a Middle East that is falling apart, in bloodshed and crisis, with no solution on the horizon, not for Syria, Yemen, Libya and Iraq. They have to deal with terrorists internally, too, and suddenly they see something that was not there a few years ago — the small country of Israel has been building excellent relations with Russia, it has open channels with the Saudis and reconciled with Turkey, and last week met with the heads of seven African states.” He said, “We are in a situation now where it is better for Egypt to be on Israel’s side than not.”