Before tackling the different dimensions of the highly significant visit of Major General Abbas Kamel, the chief of Egypt’s General Intelligence Service, to Israel and Palestine on 30-31 May, it is necessary to refer to the fact that the Palestinian cause has been a top priority for Egypt during this phase given the sensitivity of the latest developments and their close relationship to stability in the region. Perhaps a particular characteristic of this phase is that President Abdel-Fattah Al-Sisi leads efforts in this dossier to give it the considerable momentum, particularly when relates to a complicated multi-dimensional issue that is closely tied to Egypt’s national security.
It is on this basis that Major General Kamel flew to Israel and Palestine. The visit gains a significant importance given the following five dimensions:
– The visit was commissioned by the political leadership with the aim of preserving the momentum that enabled the ceasefire agreement toward reaching an accord on all procedures and steps that would inhibit any similar escalation.
– The timing of the visit is particularly opportune as it came only a few days after Egypt’s successful and internationally-recognized role in mediation and offering a truce between Israel and the Gaza Strip following a devastating 11-day war.
– The visit was a multi-legged trip to Israel and Palestine, both the West Bank and the Gaza Strip, that included meetings with the Israeli Prime Minister, Benjamin Netanyahu, high-ranking Israeli military and security leaders (including Israel’s Defense Minister, Benny Gantz and Meir Ben-Shabbat, Israel’s National Security Adviser), President Abu Mazen, head of the Palestinian National Authority, and the leaders of the Palestinian factions and organizations.
– Major General Kamel’s meeting with Netanyahu came despite Egypt realizing Netanyahu could face imminent ousting as Yair Lapid is proceeding negotiations that may give rise to a new government. If this is any indicator, it underlines Egypt’s enduring stances and polices regardless of the government the Israeli people choose.
– The visit sought to convey a clear message from President Al-Sisi to President Abu Mazen, which is that Egypt will continue to support the Palestinian people and that it regards the Palestinian president as the head of the legitimate entity.
Moreover, the visit was meant to achieve a set of objectives and send a number of messages on three levels:
First: On the Egyptian level
• Reiterating Egypt’s continued role with regard to the recent crisis and its consequences.
• Egypt will remain engaged with all parties during the coming period in order to preserve and build upon what has been achieved so far.
• All the direct concerned parties should trust the Egyptian stance and Egypt’s ability to play its role efficiently during the coming period, as has been the case with the truce it proposed between Israel and the Gaza Strip.
• Egypt has the ability and the expertise to deal with all parties with all transparency, seriousness and credibility, maintaining an equal distance from all factions and organizations as what Egypt really cares about is the interests of the Palestinian people, which must come above any other interests.
Second: On the Israeli level
• The necessity that Israel adhere to the ceasefire agreement which came to be effective as of Friday’s dawn on 21 May, and put in place all mechanisms that ensure no future escalation takes place towards a comprehensive truce.
• The need for Israel not to take any unilateral measures that would strain the situation once again, whether related to settlements, displacement of Jerusalem residents, and storming of Al-Aqsa Mosque by the Israeli forces or extremist Jewish groups.
• Egypt’s willingness to play a mediating role between Israel and Hamas in respect of the issue of exchanging prisoners and the missing persons, and its capability of accomplishing this matter.
• The need for Israel to provide all facilitations needed to ease the daily life of Palestinians in the Gaza Strip, including opening the commercial crossings and allowing for the passage of commodities and goods to the Gaza Strip.
Third: On the Palestinian level
• Underscoring Egypt’s continued and full support for President Abu Mazen and the Palestinian leadership towards satisfying the legitimate requirements of the Palestinian people.
• Egypt’s willingness to help put the Palestinian house in order and Cairo’s approval of hosting the next meeting of the general secretaries of the Palestinian factions to move forward toward unifying the Palestinian stance.
• Egypt’s keenness to exert every effort needed to put an end to the Palestinian division as well as its willingness to resume the reconciliation efforts in the near future.
• Reiterating Egypt’s active role in rebuilding the Gaza Strip and emphasizing the need for the rebuilding efforts not to be dependent on any political, security, or partisan interests, so that the reconstruction process can be initiated as soon as possible.
• Egypt’s willingness to play the required and effective mediation role in order to reach a new prisoner exchange deal.
In parallel, the Chief of the General Intelligence Service met with leaders of the Palestinian factions and organizations in the Gaza Strip, a step that underscored Egypt’s keenness to support Palestinians in the aftermath of the destructive war waged by Israel against the Strip which left tremendous material and human losses behind and emphasized that Egypt will be one of the first countries to practically start rebuilding in Gaza. In this context, Egypt launched the first groundbreaking for a residential city Egypt will be constructing in the Gaza Strip.
The visit of the Chief of the General Intelligence Service to the Gaza Strip also came to convey a clear and integrated message from the Egyptian political leadership to the entire spectrum of the Palestinian people that it’s the time to end division and unify the two parts of the Palestinian state again, as Egypt sees Gaza one of the two halves of the upcoming Palestinian state, confirming the narrative that “there is no state in Gaza, and no state without Gaza.”
I believe this historic visit shall quickly bring the Palestinian factions and organizations together to true reconciliation. Fourteen long years of bitter division had been enough to plague Palestine in the same way as the Israeli settlements and Judaization in Jerusalem had relentlessly done.
The question of the near future would be of the form of action that shall follow in the next phase following the visit of Major General Abbas. As far as I judge, the future mechanism can operate within the following framework:
• Given Egypt’s weight, role, expertise, and concerns, Egypt could have the greater role in engaging in many of the ongoing substantive issues and topics that need extra effort and close follow-up, particularly monitoring and following up on the ceasefire agreement, ending the division, unifying the Palestinian stance, and exchanging prisoners.
• Both the Israeli and Palestinian sides, particularly the Israelis, bear a great responsibility not to take any action that would re-strain the situation between them. This would help Egypt carry out the multiple tasks entrusted to it which it, no doubt, is capable of accomplishing.
• Egypt’s movements with the Israeli side will continue regardless of any cabinet changes as these movements are governed by substantive matters rather than procedural ones.
• Reconstruction of the Gaza Strip has become a responsibility of the international community and its mechanisms must be refined as soon as possible building on Egypt’s approach. While the war was still raging, Egypt proactively allocated $500 million to the rebuilding of Gaza. For these efforts to be successful, the Palestinian stage must be prepared and willing to help this be implemented without raising any obstacles.
• The Palestinian factions have no choice but end the division and they should realize that no unified stand or progress in the Palestinian cause is possible without effecting the reconciliation.
In essence, when it comes to Egypt’s approach to the Palestinian cause, we find it makes positive gradual moves within a more comprehensive plan that takes into account all the developments brought by the recent events as well as complexities and details of those developments, toward reaching workable solutions to all the current issues and containing any anticipated problems that may arise in the next stage. In all cases, Egypt’s mechanisms remain in place, intertwined, effective, and desirable at all times.
Undoubtedly, the Egyptian efforts aim to eventually create an environment conducive to the resumption of the Israeli-Palestinian negotiations that should be initiated to find a way to implement the solution that has long been accepted by Palestine, Arab countries, and the international community, namely the two-state solution which we should never turn away from whatever obstacles stand before us. We should work on implementing the two-state solution as rapidly as possible so as not to reach a stage where implementing the solution on ground would be impossible. Egypt will always cling to the belief that resolving the Palestinian-Israeli conflict is the main gateway to stability and security of the Middle East.
Thus, Egypt is racing against time and moving on all levels, including the political, security, and humanitarian levels for the good of the Palestinian people. The Palestinians holding placards of President Al-Sisi in all parts of the Gaza Strip and the warm welcome the Chief of the General Intelligence Service received confirm that the resilient Palestinians perceive the sincerity of the Egyptian leadership and realize that Egypt will not rest until the Palestinians restore their legitimate usurped rights, primarily establishing an independent Palestinian state, with East Jerusalem as its capital.