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Cairo Summit Aims to Bolster Abbas

[Amman] The Palestinian-Jordanian-Egyptian summit held in Cairo on Wednesday was clearly aimed at enhancing the status of faltering Palestinian leader Mahmoud Abbas and refocusing attention to the two-state solution despite clear evidence that neither Israel nor the US are interested in a political process.

Ali Jarbawi, a professor of political science at Bir Zeit University near Ramallah, told The Media Line the meeting was simply aimed at filling the vacuum because there is no political process with the current Israeli government, a government that the Biden administration is trying to support.

“Washington doesn’t want to weaken the Israeli government by forcing it to take responsibility for the two-state solution, because it doesn’t want to see [former Prime Minister Binyamin] Netanyahu back in power,” the professor said.

Asked if the Arab-Arab summit could accomplish anything substantial, he responded in the negative. “Nothing will come out of it other than trying to improve the lives of Palestinians. That is all that is allowed now,” Jarbawi said.

Mohammed Daraghmeh, a well-informed Palestinian journalist, told The Media Line the Palestinians need help on three fronts.

“The Americans don’t want to be involved in serious political efforts, the Israelis are refusing direct bilateral political talks, and the Arabs, especially the Gulf countries, have been ignoring Ramallah,” he said, referring to the seat of the Palestinian Authority.

Daraghmeh said that Egyptian President Abdel-Fattah el-Sisi is scheduled to meet with Israeli Prime Minister Naftali Bennett in Sharm el-Sheikh in Sinai soon and with President Joe Biden in the US, and therefore Abbas wants the help of the Egyptians and the Jordanians to “break out of the political isolation that they [the Palestinians] are feeling.”

Former Bethlehem Mayor Vera Baboun told The Media Line that the trilateral summit could be of political significance if it succeeds in bringing practical steps that address support of the Palestinian position toward a workable political settlement through the resumption of negotiations.

“If not, the current political situation and its blocked horizon will aggravate the already fragile situation on the ground,” she said.

Aaron David Miller, a senior fellow at the Carnegie Endowment for Peace Studies and an adviser on the Middle East to both Democratic and Republican administrations, told The Media Line the various participants in the summit had different agendas.

For Abbas, it was to gain “Arab state support from two of Israel’s three most important Arab partners, for a two-state solution and for support of Abbas as a key player in the Palestinian space.”

The summit also sends “a signal to Hamas, Israel and the US that Arab states have not given up on Abbas as a key Palestinian actor and on two states as the best outcome,” Miller said.

Mohammad Rajoub, lead anchor at the independent Ramallah-based Ajyal Radio, told The Media Line the summit came after the political diagnosis found there is no alternative to Abbas at the current time.

“The Americans are pressing that Abbas should be strengthened and the Bennett coalition should be kept alive. This brought in the [Israeli Defense Minister Benny] Gantz-Abbas meeting [this past Sunday] and this is why the three-way summit is being held to give legitimacy to Mahmoud Abbas and to provide a cover for the improvements of daily life in Palestine while Abbas has been facing a political crisis and internal financial difficulties,” Rajoub said.

Foreign policy analyst Marwan Bishara told The Media Line the Biden administration has “outsourced its diplomacy to Egypt and Jordan in order to maintain the appearance of movement on the peace process front.”

Turning a well-known Arab proverb, that “with movement there is a blessing,” on it head, Bishara said nothing will come of it: It will be “harakah bila baraka” (“movement without a blessing”).

Taghreed Odeh, Middle Eastern Studies program coordinator at the Council on International Educational Exchange program in Amman, told The Media Line that after Jordanian King Abdullah II’s meeting with Biden at the White House in July, it has become clear that the two-state solution is back on track in Washington.

“The timing of the summit before the ministerial meeting of the Arab League and the general assembly of the UN will ensure that the Palestinian issue stays on the front burner,” Odeh said.

Meanwhile, analysts watching the Middle East have noted that el-Sisi is trying to present himself as the leader of the Arab world.

Ahmed Samih, head of the Cairo-based Andalus Institute for Tolerance and anti-Violence Studies, told the Media Line the Egyptian president “wants to be seen as the godfather of the Arabs and needs to show that he is doing something concrete to address the Palestinian issue.”

Samih feels, however, that el-Sisi’s efforts will not bear fruit. “Egypt is not stable politically and el-Sisi has no strategy for Egypt or for the region,” he said.