Egypt has a long and complex history with Israel, marked by wars, peace treaties, and intermittent tensions.
The signing of the Camp David Accords in 1978 between Egypt and Israel marked a significant milestone, leading to the Egypt-Israel Peace Treaty in 1979. The treaty established diplomatic relations and demilitarized the Sinai Peninsula, ensuring a period of relative stability between the two nations. However, the Palestinian issue remains a deeply rooted concern for Egypt, given its shared border with the Gaza Strip, governed by Hamas.
Over the years, Egypt has played a crucial role as a mediator in various conflicts involving Israel and the Palestinians. Its diplomatic efforts have aimed to facilitate peace talks, broker ceasefires, and foster dialogue between the parties involved. Egypt's position as a regional power and its historical influence in the Arab world make it an important player in seeking a resolution to the Israel-Hamas war.
Sarah Leah Whitson is the Executive Director of the American non-profit Democracy for the Arab World Now (or DAWN) and the former Executive Director of Human Rights Watch's Middle East and North Africa Division.
She said that Egypt has often presented itself as a mediator between Israel and Hamas in Gaza, but it’s seen by many as a partisan, merely conveying the US and Israeli positions, in light of its close relationship to both governments.
“Egypt has collaborated with Israel almost without fail since 2006,” she said, “to enforce the closure and siege of Gaza at its Rafah border, depriving Palestinians there of basic needs. Egypt has done nothing to secure a ceasefire in this latest conflict, just as it did nothing to secure a ceasefire in 2021, which saw the US veto three (UN Security Council) ceasefire resolutions.”
She said the recent escalation of violence between Israel and Hamas presents Egypt with significant challenges. On one hand, Egypt seeks to maintain its diplomatic ties with Israel, as stipulated in the peace treaty, and prevent the conflict from spilling over onto its territory. On the other hand, Egypt cannot ignore the plight of the Palestinians, particularly those in Gaza, who are suffering from the devastating consequences of the conflict.
Amid the current crisis, Egypt has been actively engaged in diplomatic efforts to de-escalate tensions. Egyptian officials have held talks with Israeli and their Palestinian counterparts, urging both sides to exercise restraint and work towards a ceasefire. Egyptian intelligence officials have also been instrumental in brokering temporary truces and facilitating indirect negotiations between Israel and Hamas.
Whitson said Egypt faces a dual challenge of ensuring border security while addressing the humanitarian crisis in Gaza. The Egyptian government has increased its security along the border to prevent the smuggling of weapons and militants. However, it has also sought to alleviate the suffering of the Palestinian population by facilitating the delivery of humanitarian aid, including food, medical supplies, and fuel, into Gaza.
“Egypt is under tremendous pressure, however, to comply with US and Israeli demands, as it remains dependent on US military support and political protection,” she added.
Beyond immediate crisis management, Egypt recognizes the need for a lasting solution to the Israel-Palestinian conflict. It supports the establishment of an independent Palestinian state based on the 1967 borders, with East Jerusalem as its capital. Egypt advocates for a negotiated settlement that addresses the legitimate rights and aspirations of both Israelis and Palestinians, emphasizing the importance of dialogue and compromise.
Egypt's geographical proximity to the Israel-Hamas conflict places it in a challenging position. Balancing its historical ties with Israel and its solidarity with the Palestinian cause is a delicate task. Egypt's efforts to reduce tensions and provide humanitarian assistance demonstrate its commitment to finding a peaceful resolution. As the conflict continues, Egypt's diplomatic efforts remain vital in promoting dialogue and reaching a sustainable solution that ensures peace and stability for both Israelis and Palestinians.