Officials from Egypt, Jordan and the Palestinian Authority (PA) met in Cairo recently to discuss the need to end the political stalemate between Ramallah and Jerusalem, and to start reconciliation talks between Fatah and Hamas.
In late November, Egyptian President Abdel Fattah al-Sisi held a meeting with PA President Mahmoud Abbas in which the two agreed to restart Palestinian-Israeli peace negotiations within the framework of a possible international peace conference to take place in 2021.
The PA has boycotted and cut ties with Washington over U.S. President Donald Trump’s recognition of Jerusalem as the capital of Israel in December 2017. In 2018, Trump closed the PA’s diplomatic mission in Washington D.C. and cut off most financial aid to Ramallah. Following the recent normalization agreements between Israel and the UAE, Bahrain, Morocco and Sudan, Ramallah has lost its former veto on diplomatic relations between Israel and the wider Arab world.
A cash-strapped and increasingly politically isolated PA is eager, therefore, to start on the right foot with the incoming Biden administration.
Egypt and Jordan both have an interest in solving the seemingly intractable Palestinian-Israeli conflict. Jordan, which has a Palestinian Arab majority population, but is ruled by the Hashemite minority, sees a direct link between its own national security and the solving of the Palestinian-Israeli conflict. Fearing Islamists at home, in addition to Fatah and Hamas next door, Jordan’s King Abdullah II has had to balance the country’s traditional pro-U.S. stance with the acknowledgement of the powerful anti-Western and anti-Israel voices at home that could undermine the future viability of his rule.
The fear, specifically, is that Fatah and Hamas will eventually seek to incorporate Jordan into an enlarged future Palestinian Arab state, still a trauma from the late PLO leader Yasser Arafat’s attempt to undermine the Hashemite Kingdom and the Jordanian king’s crackdown in September 1970, known as Black September.
From a Jordanian perspective, solving the Palestinian-Israeli conflict once and for all, therefore, constitutes an existential interest. In addition, Jordan is determined to preserve its historic custodianship of the al-Aqsa mosque and other holy Muslim sites in Jerusalem.
Few Palestinian Arabs live in Egypt, and Cairo is consequently more detached from the dispute. In addition, Egypt does not claim any custodianship over Jerusalem’s sacred Muslim shrines. Egypt’s motivation to solve the conflict between Ramallah and Jerusalem, therefore, is driven mainly by security considerations.
Egypt’s government feels threatened by the cooperation between domestic Islamists and the volatile Hamas-ruled Gaza Strip next door and therefore wants to strengthen Abbas’ regime in Ramallah and encourage a reconciliation process between Fatah and Hamas that would ideally stabilize the Gaza Strip under PA rule.
While Jordanian-Israeli relations have deteriorated in recent years, Egyptian-Israeli relations have improved dramatically. In recent years, Cairo and Jerusalem have cooperated against the entrenchment of Islamists in the increasingly lawless Egyptian Sinai peninsula. Like Israel, Egypt opposes the Iranian regime’s belligerent policies throughout the Middle East.
As a sign of the improved relations, Egyptian President al-Sissi recently invited Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu to Egypt for the first official visit by an Israeli prime minister to the country in a decade. While Egypt supports a peace agreement between Jerusalem and Ramallah, al-Sisi has made it clear that Ramallah does not have any veto on relations between Israel and the wider Arab world. On the contrary, Cairo has vocally welcomed the normalization deals between Israel, Sudan, the UAE, Bahrain and Morocco.