Since the beginning of the current episode of war between Gaza and Tel Aviv, all eyes have been directed towards Egypt. The world is expecting Egypt to step up and play its historical role as “the big sister” of Arabs, and intervene to halt, or at least de-escalate, the fight happening next door. However, realistically speaking, what can the Egyptian state single-handedly do to end the current round of conflict between Israel and Hamas, and guarantee sustainable peace, if the United States and the international community are acting lethargic and indifferent.
The ongoing fight between Gaza and Tel Aviv is, allegedly, the most destructive battle between the Israelis and the Palestinians, since the Gaza War in 2014. The loss of hundreds of innocent lives and the physical damage to infrastructure and individual properties is only one crack of the destruction. The greater damage is the indirect costs of the impairment of Middle East peace potential and re-empowering Islamist extremists and terrorist organizations.
According to the latest statistics by the Palestinian Ministry of Health, announced on May 19th, the death toll in Gaza reached a total of 219 Palestinians, including 63 children, while at least 1530 Palestinians have been injured. Meanwhile, Israeli Aviation has been striking residential buildings and individual properties in Gaza. So far, nine buildings have been brought to the ground by Israeli bombs, including a 12-story building that housed media offices owned by major regional and international media organizations. The Israeli military justified destroying the buildings by saying that they were used as hideouts for Hamas’ meetings and intelligence activities.
On the other side, the Israeli Emergency Response Service announced that 12 Israelis, including one soldier, one child, and two women, have been killed by Hamas missiles fired at southern Israeli cities. According to official statistics from the Israeli government, Hamas fired more than 3000 missiles at Israeli cities, but about 400 of them fell short and landed inside Gaza and the Israeli Iron-Dom defense system managed to intercept more than 50% of the missile attacks by Hamas, according to Israeli military statements. Inside Israel, the Israeli Arabs, who represent 21% of the Israeli population and are mostly young, started to clash with Jews, which is raising an alarm for a potential civil war.
Decision-makers around the world are following the tragic events and they stated their concern, but a few are intervening to end the war or control the damage. The United Nations and the international community have already condemned the violence and called for a ceasefire. The Arab League and its member states, collectively and separately, condemned the violence and called for peace, and then they went back to work as usual. Judging from the American President's calls with the Israeli Prime Minister, last week and this week, the Biden Administration seems to be intentionally keeping itself distant from the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.
Egypt, with the help of Jordan, is the only country that is taking real steps, beyond verbal condemnations and objections, towards ending the conflict and solving the crisis. Since the beginning of the conflict, Egypt has been making daily calls with Israeli officials and Hamas leaders, urging them to stop the fight and sit for negotiations. Egypt also proposed a ceasefire plan for both sides of the conflict. Meanwhile, Egypt opened Sinai for Gazan civilians who are seeking shelter and medical aid, despite the risk this may entail on Sinai security.
Following a trilateral summit between the Egyptian President El-Sisi, Jordanian King Abdullah, and French President Macron, in Paris on the morning of May 18th, President El-Sisi announced Egypt’s decision to allocate 500 million dollars for reconstructing Gaza, as soon as the war ended. This announcement was an attempt to encourage Hamas to show willingness to commit to a truce.
Geography is destiny! Egypt could and should intervene to end the current war between Israelis and Palestinians. That is not only because Egypt is the immediate neighbor of Gaza and Israel or the historical big sister of the Arab countries. But, most importantly, Egypt is the only country that is keeping balanced relations with both Israelis and Palestinians; including not only the Palestinian Authority but also Hamas.
However, there is a realistic limit to what Egypt can do. While Egypt coordinates with the Palestinian Authority to pressure Hamas to stop the fight from its side, the international community and the United States must balance Egypt’s efforts by pressuring Israel to accept the Ceasefire proposal and to sit for negotiations with Hamas. This ought to happen while keeping in mind that the role of the regional and international mediators must continue beyond ending the war to guarantee a long-term sustainable solution for the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.
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