Egyptian effort to prevent Palestinian-Israeli escalation ahead of Ramadan
By Yoni Ben Menachem
US President Joe Biden asked Egyptian President al-Sisi to renew Egyptian involvement to prevent an escalation in the security situation between Israel and the Palestinians and another round of fighting on the Gaza border.
U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken brought this message to Cairo and the Egyptians responded positively to the American request. Egyptian intelligence subsequently summoned Ziyad al-Nakhala, the Secretary General of Islamic Jihad, and Ismail Haniyeh, the leader of Hamas, to talks in Cairo with the head of Egyptian intelligence, Gen. Abbas Kamel.
The immediate Egyptian task is to prevent an escalation as the month of Ramadan approaches, beginning on March 23. That is why it agreed to mediate between Israel and the Palestinian terrorist organizations. The Egyptians fear that an escalation on the Temple Mount or the Gaza border could destabilize the Egyptian regime.
Following pressure from the Biden administration and Egyptian intelligence, the Netanyahu government asked Israel’s High Court to delay the evacuation of the Bedouin outpost in Khan Al-Ahmar by a few months. The Israeli government also postponed until further notice the demolition of a large Palestinian structure that was illegally built in the village of Silwan in eastern Jerusalem.
Egyptian sources said the meeting between Abbas Kamel and Ziyad al-Nakhallah did not result in a breakthrough. Al-Nakhallah refused to commit to maintaining calm at all costs, but agreed to continue contacts with Egypt.
Hamas, on the other hand, showed a more moderate position. It made clear that it is interested in continuing the calm on the Gaza border and emphasized that it showed restraint after IDF forces killed five of its members near Jericho.
The Egyptians are voicing dissatisfaction with the behavior of the Netanyahu government. Egyptian Foreign Minister Sameh Shoukri met in Cairo with Thor Vansland, the UN envoy for the Middle East, and accused Israel of taking unilateral steps that increase Palestinian anger and negatively affect the chances of resuming negotiations on a “two-state solution.”
Egypt is now demanding that Israel maintain calm and has appealed to the Biden administration to pressure the Netanyahu government on this matter in order to facilitate Egyptian mediation.
Senior security officials in Israel said that Israel rejected an Egyptian request to prevent the IDF from entering Area A, explaining that this is necessary to prevent terrorist attacks and to prevent armed groups from overthrowing the PA, in the same way it overthrew the PA in Gaza in 2007.
The only formula that Israel has agreed to is “calm for calm”.
William Burns, the head of the CIA, who recently visited the Middle East, warned this week of the possibility that a third Palestinian intifada might break out. The IDF and the police are also preparing for this possibility.
According to Palestinian sources, since the beginning of 2023, 42 Palestinians have been killed by IDF forces in Judea and Samaria. Israel is destroying illegal Palestinian construction in eastern Jerusalem and working to curtail the extra privileges that Palestinian security prisoners presently enjoy.
Egypt is also trying to restart negotiations on a prisoner exchange deal between Israel and Hamas. The assessment in the Israeli security establishment is very pessimistic. The impression is that the Palestinians want an escalation at any cost during Ramadan and it will be very difficult to prevent it. Israel’s security forces are preparing accordingly.
Yoni Ben Menachem, a veteran Arab affairs and diplomatic commentator for Israel Radio and Television, is a senior Middle East analyst for the Jerusalem Center. He served as Director General and Chief Editor of the Israel Broadcasting Authority.