Egypt’s diplomacy fix: Walking the Israel-Trump-Palestine tightrope
Egyptian diplomacy instantly came under fire as accusations of its subordination to the upcoming US administration and Israel started coming through
Last week, Egypt submitted to the UN Security Council a draft resolution that condemns the construction of Israeli settlements in the West Bank and East Jerusalem.
But following a call Egyptian President Abdel Fattah al-Sisi received from US President Elect Donald Trump, Egypt withdrew the resolution. Four other countries—New Zealand, Senegal, Malaysia, and Venezuela—submitted the resolution again and it was approved by the majority of Security Council members.
The United States abstained yet, contrary to what was expected and to what usually happens, did not veto the resolution. Egyptian diplomacy instantly came under fire as accusations of its subordination to the upcoming US administration and Israel started coming through and many tried to understand the logic behind such a move.
Foreign Ministry spokesperson Ahmed Abu Zeid said that Egypt, as the only Arab non-permanent member of the Security Council, submitted the draft resolution yet had concerns about the reaction of permanent members. “In an unprecedented move, the future US administration announced its rejection of the resolution and called upon the current administration to veto it,” he said.
“The situation got confusing and Egypt was uncertain whether the current administration would listen to the future one and that is why Egypt called for postponing the vote until things become clear.” Abu Zeid added that as a major mediator in the Palestinian-Israeli negotiations, Egypt had to be extremely careful in its following step. “Withdrawing the resolution was only a procedural step that does not change Egypt’s position on Palestine and in all cases the resolution was passed while Egypt managed to strike that delicate balance between its stance on Palestine and its relation with the future American administration.”
Former Deputy Foreign Minister Sayed Qassem al-Masri said that Egypt lost a lot upon withdrawing the draft resolution. “Egypt led the negotiations that preceded the resolution then drafted it and it is originally Egypt’s initiative. Then all this effort went down the drain when the resolution was withdrawn and Egypt wasted the chance to be the country behind the passing of such a historic resolution,” he wrote. “Think of the credit Egypt would have taken in the Arab and Muslim world and think how unsettling the resolution was for Israel.” Masri added that withdrawing the resolution means that Egypt succumbed to pressure from the United States and, consequently, Israel. “Netanyahu was shocked to know that the US would not veto the resolution so he called Trump to put pressure on Egypt so that Israel can buy time until Trump assumes office and uses the veto. Egypt just complied.”
Journalist Hossam al-Hindi said that Egypt’s decision to withdraw the resolution is the culmination if a series of steps that underline the recent rapprochement between Egypt and Israel whose ties are expected to become even stronger after Donald Trump, known for his support for Israel, comes to power.
“The Egyptian delegation drafted the resolution and garnered support for it from several non-permanent members and only two days after the resolution was submitted it was withdrawn without even consulting the other members,” he wrote. Hindi argued that it was only when news that the Obama administration will not use the veto that Netanyahu and Trump had to convince Egypt to change its position. “This is not the first time Egypt supports Israel internationally for in September 2015, Egypt voted for Israel’s membership at the United Nations Committee on the Peaceful Uses of Outer Space, which Israel considered a diplomatic victory.”
Hindi called Egyptian Foreign Minister Sameh Shukri “the orchestrator of normalization with Israel,” and cited his visit to Jerusalem, his reservation on calling Israel a “terrorist state,” and his presence at the funeral of Shimon Perez to indicate the new tendency of Egyptian diplomacy.
Expert in Middle Eastern affairs Feras Abu Hilal said that the Egyptian regime failed to read the political situation properly when it was certain that the US will veto the resolution: “Egypt could not predict that Obama would want to take an expected move that would later be part of his legacy especially in the light of his tense relations with Netanyahu,” he wrote, adding that not submitting the resolution at all would have been much better for Egyptian diplomacy than submitting then withdrawing it.
“It is also extremely embarrassing for Egypt that countries from outside the Arab world such as Venezuela and New Zealand would support the resolution while Egypt, commonly known as the Arab’s ‘big sister’ would withdraw it.” Abu Hilal argued that the resolution itself is not significant since Israel never respects UN resolutions anyway, but the problem with this particular resolution is the way Egypt let down Palestine and the Arabs.
Professor of political science Khalil al-Enani argued that it is the Egyptian regime rather than Egyptian diplomacy that is to blame for the withdrawal of the draft resolution. “Members of the Egyptian delegation were smart enough to read the current relationship between Obama and Israel and to know that the former will not use the veto against the resolution in order to deal two blows before leaving: one to Netanyahu and another to Trump who would have definitely used the veto had he been in power at the time of the voting,” he wrote.
Enani argued that the withdrawal of the resolution was a unilateral decision on the part of the Egyptian president who wanted to establish strong ties with the Trump administration and avoid antagonizing Israel, hence ordered his foreign minister to withdraw the resolution. “This placed the Egyptian diplomacy is an extremely embarrassing and humiliating position on both the regional and international levels.”
Meanwhile, Chief Palestinian negotiator Saeb Erekat said that Egypt’s action was justified since it was concerned that the resolution will not be passed. “It was a matter of timing and that is why Egypt wanted to wait until making sure the resolution will not be obstructed by a veto and when it did it voted for the resolution,” he said.
“At the same time, Egypt managed to deal diplomatically with the upcoming American administration.” Erekat denied allegations that Egypt let the Palestinians down and said that had it not been for Egypt, the resolution would not have into being at all. “We and the Egyptians are one team and we thank Egyptian diplomacy for this effort.”