Is a fear of unilateral Palestinian moves behind Sisi's peace push?

The motivation for the Egyptian president's appeal for peace may be fear that Abbas's moves could destabilize the region.

By JACKY HOUGI
May 19, 2016 00:55
2 minute read.
Abdel Fattah al-Sisi

Egyptian President Abdel Fattah al-Sisi.. (photo credit: AMR ABDALLAH DALSH / REUTERS)

 
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A theory about what drove Egyptian President Abdel Fattah al-Sisi to deliver a speech touting Cairo's peace with Israel was commonly voiced in Israeli political circles on Tuesday. According to this theory, Sisi was enlisted by Benjamin Netanyahu or Isaac Herzog, either secretly or in coordination, in order to ensure the speedy entry of the Zionist Union into the governing coalition.

There is nothing that Israelis do better than tickling themselves and enjoying it. At first glance, this theory seems spot on. However, Cairo's dire situation is too severe for it to seek relief in a temporary intersecting of interests between two Israeli politicians, no matter how senior they may be.

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Egyptian diplomats have been following the complex relations between power players in the Knesset for dozens of years. Sisi's consultants know well that the entry of the Zionist Union into the coalition will not significantly change the government's policies. It will certainly not turn it into a left-wing government.

Sisi was aiming much higher in his speech on Tuesday. In an unusual move, he even turned directly to the Israeli media, imploring them to broadcast his remarks to the public. Sisi's remarks were eloquent and the result of careful planning, but they also contained an element of urgency. The Egyptian president is afraid that Summer 2016 will be hotter than usual.

Several hours before Sisi's remarks, French President Francois Hollande announced that he was postponing an international conference to help relaunch the peace process. The French initiative, which was enthusiastically received in Ramallah, but rejected by Israel, is thus being slowly buried. The Arab Peace Initiative, which Sisi also mentioned, is not being entertained by anyone here. The possibility of US mediated talks is also out of service, perhaps temporarily, or perhaps for an extended period: Washington is in the midst of an election campaign that could put Donald Trump in power - and bury for good any agreement that includes Israeli concessions.

Cairo has long been concerned that Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas, nearing the end of his political career, is initiating unilateral steps, such as turning to the UN Security Council with a resolution calling for the end of the occupation, or pursuing war crimes charges against Israel at the International Criminal Court. Such steps would antagonize Israel and from there a great fire would spread. If violence breaks out in the West Bank, it is liable to spread to the Gaza Strip. If the violence infects Gaza, chances are it will overflow into Sinai.

The Egyptian president, who is surrounded by enemies, is turning to Israel, which is surrounded by friends, and attempting to wake it from its slumber. A peace process - initiated at home or abroad - is a sedative for the masses, the president is trying to say. Without a peace process, or a chance for optimism about the future, the masses are liable to seek redemption in other places.

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