Egypt & Qatar Press Gaza Strip Ceasefire
Arab nations seek to de-escalate Israeli-Palestinian tensions while upping their profile in the region
As violence along the Gaza Strip border ramped up this month, and with no signs that the “March of Return” protests have concluded, countries in the region are seeking to de-escalate tensions. To this end, Egypt and Qatar have both submitted proposals for a ceasefire between Israel and Hamas, as they look to assert influence over the Palestinian issue.
While Cairo and Doha are not traditional allies, as supposed moderate Sunni states they have an interest in promoting regional stability. Moreover, Egypt shares a border with Gaza and President Abdel Fatah Al-Sisi has invested heavily in preventing Hamas from supporting Islamic State-aligned terrorist in Sinai and from smuggling weaponry through the Peninsula. For its part, Qatar has long supported Hamas, an offshoot of the Muslim Brotherhood, whose ideology is shared by the Qatari leadership.
Despite Qatar being locked in a feud with Egyptian allies Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates—this, over its alleged support for terrorism and close ties to Iran—Doha and Cairo nevertheless seem intent to step up as mediators of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict as other major Arab powers remain uncharacteristically muted.
While details of the proposed plans have not been publicly released, a report by Israel’s Channel 10 claimed that Jerusalem will only countenance Hamas’ demand to ease the Gaza blockade—which is enforced in conjunction with Egypt—if the enclave’s rulers commit to a complete cessation of rocket fire; stop constructing cross-border attack tunnels; release three Israeli civilians, along with the bodies of two deceased IDF soldier, being held in Gaza; and vow not to use any materials passing into the territory for military purposes.
Dr. Christopher Davidson, a lecturer in Middle East Politics at Durham University in the United Kingdom, explained to The Media Line that while Egypt and Qatar are unlikely to fully combine diplomatic forces, both countries could benefit from their respective initiatives. “This sort of counterweight, by opening a dialogue with Qatar, sends a message to the Saudis and Emeratis that Egypt is still a strong sovereign state and that Doha [still has leverage]. The move also gives Cairo the opportunity to derive some domestic support from Palestinians and a large majority of the population that sympathizes with them. Whoever is president of Egypt,” he elaborated, “must be sensitive and resonate with Palestinian citizens and affairs, but also must prevent the conflict from spilling into their borders.”
As regards Jerusalem’s position, Dr. Davidson noted that “Israel is very concerned about any efforts from third parties like Egypt and Qatar to get involved financially, fearing where the money may go. However, [the Israelis] might tentatively back it. The situation in Gaza is ready to blow and has reached a point where it might spillover, so peace with concession could be seen as more palatable than a renewed state of war.”
Dr. Yoel Guzansky, a former official on Israel’s National Security Council and currently a Senior Fellow at the Tel Aviv-based Institute for National Security Studies, likewise expressed skepticism that Egypt and Qatar are functioning in tandem. “It’s hard to believe that they are co-operating given they are on different sides of the Arab conflict. But all parties seem to gain. Both the Egyptians and Qataris are trying to play a role in this conflict, I just don’t buy the reports that they are working so closely together.”
Dr. Guzansky, an expert on Qatar’s foreign policy, stressed to The Media Line, that Doha “is instrumental to both Israel and Hamas, as the only real actor who can talk to both parties. It’s not secret anymore that Israel and Qatar are pursuing warmer relations with 20 unofficial Qatari visits since 2014, so it makes sense for them to broker the deal.” Moreover, he expounded, “Qatar for some time has been the biggest investor in Gaza and perhaps the most influential actor on Hamas. They have a lot of cash and influence and have been actively trying to make sure this assistance doesn’t reach Hamas directly, building hospitals and roads. This proves Qatar wants further influence in Gaza.”
In Dr. Davidson’s estimation, the entire push amounts to one big public relations campaign liable to generate few results. “Recent history tells us that these efforts are usually just to yield political points especially in Egyptian domestic policy. I just hope” he concluded, “that the political game might result in some gain for the Palestinians.”
(Benji Flacks is a Student Intern in The Media Line’s Press and Policy Student Program)
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