During his visit to the White House on Monday Egyptian President Abdel Fattah Al-Sisi told Trump he was confident the US President could broker a peace agreement between Israel and Palestine. Kick-starting talks was tipped to be top of the agenda when the two met in Washington early this week – for a while now the Egyptian strongman himself has been pushing for reconciliation.
Egypt has traditionally played the role of mediator in conflicts between Israel and Palestine though different presidents have fulfilled the task with varying degrees of compassion. Over the course of his presidency Mubarak made conditions worse for Palestinians living in Gaza, constantly closing their shared border, Rafah, even during Cast Lead, the Israeli offensive on the Strip in 2008-2009.
When the Arab Spring broke out in Egypt and Mubarak’s fall was imminent, Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said he was following events in Egypt with “vigilance and worry”. He had every reason to for the protests gave way to elections, which brought in Mohammed Morsi who eased the Rafah border closures. It took the new Egyptian president just eight days to negotiate an end to Operation Pillar of Defence in 2012, capitalising on the fervour of the Arab Spring to drum up support for Gaza.
Then came Sisi, who adopted Mubarak’s repressive rule and took it to a whole new level. During his presidency there has been an almost total closure of the Rafah crossing, the destruction and flooding of the tunnels that connect the Strip to Egypt and the repeated vilification of Palestinians in the Egyptian press.
The Egyptian president is closely aligned to Israel, who has exercised a total air and sea blockade on the Strip since 2007 and is neither a credible nor an honest broker between the Israelis and the Palestinians.
Observers have long highlighted tension between Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas and Sisi, pointing out that the Egyptian president is preparing the ground for Mohammed Dahlan to succeed Abbas. Dahlan was banished from the Strip in June 2011 on the charge he intended to overthrow the presidency and is seen as a tool of the US and Israel due to his proximity to Israel’s security establishment. George Bush once described him as “our guy.”
Dahlan is also a favourite of the Quartet – Egypt, Jordan, Saudi Arabia and the Emirates – who have collectively called for a revival of the 2002 Arab Peace Initiative. But their involvement is also controversial. Saudi and the UAE have both supported the Egyptian military, a stance they made clear shortly after the coup when they offered the Egyptian president a combined $8bn package and with it endorsed his presidency.
Egypt, Saudi and the Emirates have all tried to crush the Muslim Brotherhood in their respective countries. In Egypt Sisi has embarked on a campaign of enforced disappearances, death sentences and torture for those who oppose him, with particular ferocity reserved for members of the Muslim Brotherhood.
Given the fact that Hamas in Gaza was established during the first intifada as an offshoot of the Muslim Brotherhood, Sisi’s history of animosity with the group is another reason why his involvement as a mediator is inappropriate. During Israel’s 2014 war on Gaza Sisi’s first attempts at a ceasefire failed when he excluded Hamas from the talks.
In response Hamas ruled out Egypt as a negotiator and said it would only consider Turkey or Qatar instead. Even Mubarak, who also disliked the Muslim Brotherhood and made his own attempts to limit their political activity at home, recognised Hamas’ position as a key player and included them in negotiations.
The fact that Sisi believes Trump can broker peace between the Israelis and the Palestinians is emblematic of his poor judgement. Trump has promised to move the US embassy to Jerusalem and has picked an ambassador to Israel who has not ruled out annexing the West Bank if Israel would like to do so, if it means achieving a resolution. What is clear is that neither Trump nor Sisi would be a suitable mediator for the conflict for they are both very much part of the problem and certainly not the solution.
The views expressed in this article belong to the author and do not necessarily reflect the editorial policy of Middle East Monitor.