Egypt and Israel Seek to Reduce Tensions Through Bilateral Summit
The recent visit to Egypt by Israeli Prime Minister Naftali Bennet to meet with Egyptian President Abdel Fattah al-Sisi on September 13 marks a key point in the ongoing Palestinian-Israeli struggle. This is especially noteworthy after the conflict in the Gaza Strip last May between Israel and Hamas. According to The Guardian, this summit marked the first official trip by an Israeli head of government to Egypt in a decade.
In the official statement released by the Egyptian government after the summit, President al-Sisi drew attention to Egypt’s attempts to maintain peace in the Palestinian territories and the essential support from the international community needed to support the ongoing rebuilding efforts there. Mohammad Daraghmeh, a political analyst based out of Ramallah, told Al Jazeera the two leaders probably worked out a prisoner-exchange program between the Palestinians and Israelis, along with discussing the 14-year blockade on the Gaza Strip which has tried to prevent Hamas from receiving weapons shipments. Daraghmeh states, “I believe that the Israeli vision towards the blockade on Gaza is shifting. [Foreign Minister Yahir] Lapid’s plan – in that he called for ‘economy in exchange for security’ – indicates there could be steps towards lifting the blockade on Gaza. It would be on the basis of ‘you don’t attack us, we don’t attack you,” This would be advantageous as the historical precedent has been that every time Israel imposes further sanctions against the Gaza Strip, Hamas would fire rockets into Israel in retaliation, according to Al Jazeera.
Egypt has also played an essential role ensuring peace in Gaza since May, by first brokering and then maintaining the ceasefire after the short 11-day conflict. According to The New York Times, the conflict in Gaza started after members of the Israeli Defense Force attacked the al-Aqsa mosque in Jerusalem following being targeted with stones by Palestinian protestors, a response which enraged Hamas leadership in the Gaza Strip.
Reuters reports that there has been an increase in cross-border violence dating back to late August, which has heightened concerns over whether the fragile truce can be maintained. The beginning of September was marked by Palestinian militants firing rockets into Israel for three nights in a row, necessitating the summit between al-Sisi and Bennet. The Israeli government has responded in the form of air strikes.
This summit may also be an effort by the Egyptian government to signal to the current Biden administration that they are willing to engage in a productive relationship with Israel and help maintain peace in Gaza. According to Al Jazeera, Daraghmeh asserts that “Egypt is the second biggest recipient of US military aid in the world. Being friendly with the biggest recipient of military aid in Israel in this public way presumably makes sense on that front.”
Despite the positive tone that emerged from the conference, there is little hope of any progress on a solution to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. Reuters reports Israeli Prime Minister Bennet is an Israeli nationalist who opposes Palestinian statehood, destroying any hopes of reviving the two-state solution. Bennet, instead, is more focused on improving economic conditions within the Palestinian territories.
Any peace deal would also have to resolve complex issues that those leaders involved do not want to stir up, and the status quo is unlikely to change. As BBC News Middle East Editor Jeremy Brown states, “Similar things have been said by both sides in claiming victory and then essentially the seeds of the next conflict are sown. I can tell you one thing for certain – that if the status quo does not change favourably, there will be another round of this.” Despite the hopeful progress taken with the recent summit, the future for a lasting peace in the Palestinian-Israeli conflict remains slim.