Egypt recognised the threat of Zionism when it began to take root in the Palestinian territories and became conscious of its potential pitfalls early. Since the very beginning of the Arab-Israeli conflict it realised the grave danger posed by the Zionist project to the Palestinian people and the whole Arab region. Thus, regardless of the circumstances that motivated Egypt to get involved in the 1948 war, this fight reflected Egypt’s early awareness of the growing danger of Zionism.
Throughout Abdel Nasser’s era, Zionism was developing into a more explicit threat. Israel became the main enemy and Palestine took first priority as a vital Arab and national issue. If we put aside the Egyptian policies that were followed then, we will still understand that it was only natural for Egypt to sense a danger lurking on its eastern border. Moreover, we will fathom that Egypt’s serious concerns came in accordance with the incontrovertible geographical and historical facts as well.
During Sadat’s presidential terms Egypt’s interest to liberate its occupied territories eventually replaced the national interest to deal with the Palestinian issue, especially after the 1973 war. Egypt’s endeavours to free its occupied lands led, in the end, to signing the Camp David accords in 1978, then the Egyptian-Israeli agreement in 1979.
When Mubarak came to power he maintained that balance, but with a few changes. The resumption of the Arab-Egyptian and the Palestinian-Egyptian relationships after being broken off following the signing of Camp David agreement, is a major change that marked Mubarak’s early terms in office in the 1980s.
In the last decade of Mubarak’s rule, Hamas won the elections in 2006 and the security chaos that ensued led to a Palestinian division and Hamas solely ruled Gaza in 2007. Egypt was avoiding supporting Hamas in a way that would eventually lead to an official recognition of their rule in Gaza, at the expense of the Palestinian issue. At the same time, Egypt was seeking to avert a humanitarian crisis in the besieged and highly populated Gaza strip on Egypt’s eastern border.
Egypt mediated a ceasefire agreement during the Israeli aggression against Gaza at the end of 2008 to prevent a catastrophe in the strip. However, the mediator role played by Mubarak’s regime was backed by the good relationships with Israel and US in order to turn a blind eye to the scenario of hereditary transferring of rule. That is why, the regime was widely criticised internally from Egyptian parties and currents, and also from the Arab world.
The third Israeli aggression on Gaza took place on 7 July 2014, a few weeks after Al-Sisi started his presidential term. Egypt immediately introduced an initiative that was accepted by Israel and rejected by Hamas. The Egyptian initiative contained two main points: reaching a ceasefire, then discussing all pending issues between the Israelis and the Palestinians through Egyptian mediation. The question is: will Egypt depend on the old Mubarak’s way in handling Gaza’s crises or will it open up new horizons of policies related to that issue? I mean policies aiming at rejecting the Palestinian division and offering a new settlement. We must bear in mind that the goal of Israel’s aggression on Gaza was to impede any settlement simply because a settlement will require Israel to give back some rights to the Palestinians, such as the return of the refugees.
Limited solutions to the Israeli aggression on Gaza will allow it to happen over and over again. That is why the situation now requires a comprehensive solution to the Palestinian-Israeli conflict and Egypt is the most capable party that can provide a basis to that extensive settlement.
Abdel-Alim Mohamed is a counsellor at Al-Ahram Centre for Political and Strategic Studies.