Egyptian Foreign Minister Sameh Shoukry visited July 19 Jordan and the West Bank to reiterate Egypt’s rejection of the Israeli plan to annex parts of the Palestinian lands in the occupied West Bank, and to support Palestine in its bid to establish an independent state.
Shoukry met with both King Abdullah of Jordan and Jordanian Minister of Foreign Affairs Ayman Safadi in Amman.
According to a July 19 statement issued by the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, Shoukry stressed during his meeting with the Jordanian monarch the rejection of any unilateral Israeli measures to annex parts of the Palestinian territories and said this would have major implications for peace and stability in the region as a whole.
After meeting with Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas in Ramallah July 20, Shoukry reiterated Egypt’s rejection of Israel’s annexation plan. The two sides also discussed ways to resume peace efforts.
Peace negotiations between the Palestinian and Israeli sides stalled in April 2014 due to Israel’s refusal to stop its settlement activity and accept pre-1967 borders as a basis for a two-state solution.
Egypt believes that the chances of achieving peace between Israel and the Palestinians should be based on a two-state solution to establish an independent Palestinian state on the borders of 1967 with East Jerusalem as its capital. It also finds that any Israeli action to annex lands in the West Bank would undermine the chances of achieving peace and stability in the region.
“We seek to resume the political process and resume negotiations that would lead to a two-state solution,” Shoukry said July 20 during a joint news conference with Palestinian Foreign Minister Riyad al-Maliki.
He noted, "[The political process is] the best solution that would allow the Palestinian and Israeli people to live in peace away from the conflict.” Shoukry added that Egypt will continue to deploy efforts within the framework of its relationship with its international partners.
Shoukry’s visit to Ramallah came after a phone call July 19 between Egyptian President Abdel Fattah al-Sisi and Abbas, during which Sisi reiterated his country’s support for the Palestinian Authority.
Tarek Fahmy, the head of Israeli and Palestinian studies at the National Center for Middle East Studies in Cairo, told Al-Monitor that Shoukry’s tour conveys Egypt’s rejection of Israel’s annexation project for the West Bank and the Jordan Valley.
He added that the visit conveyed a message of support for Palestine before the international community and was more of a symbolic than political tour aimed at emphasizing the peculiarity of Egyptian-Palestinian relations and showing support for Jordan.
Palestinians want the Jordan Valley to serve as the eastern border of their state in the West Bank and Gaza, with East Jerusalem as its capital. The Jordan Valley extends from the Dead Sea in the south to the city of Beit She'an in northern Israel.
Israel occupied the West Bank, along with East Jerusalem and Gaza in the June 1967 war. It later announced the formal annexation of East Jerusalem in 1980.
The Jordan Valley, which Israel is seeking to annex, covers an area of 2,400 square kilometers (927 square miles), which accounts for 30% of the West Bank. Israel has long said it intends to maintain military control of the Jordan Valley under any peace agreement with the Palestinians.
US President Donald Trump’s plan for peace in the Middle East announced Jan. 28 gave Israel the green light to annex the Jordan Valley and settlements in the West Bank.
Samir Ghattas, a member of the Egyptian parliament and head of the Middle East Forum for Strategic Studies and National Security, told Al-Monitor that Egypt’s position on the Israeli annexation plan is long overdue.
Ghattas said that Shoukry had failed to attend a meeting held June 18 between the Jordanian foreign minister and the Palestinian president in Ramallah; hence Shoukry’s recent tour, which was to address the situation and respond to those who were skeptical about the importance of the Palestinian cause as far as Cairo is concerned.
Fahmy said that Egypt will push toward the resumption of negotiations between the Palestinian and Israeli sides under the auspices of the Middle East Quartet, as an alternative to a US unilateral mediation.
In February, Abbas announced the severing of all ties with the United States and Israel, including security ties, in opposition to Trump’s peace plan.
Fahmy added, “Egypt will support any Palestinian efforts aimed at confronting the US plan, stopping the annexation plan and resuming negotiations, including the efforts of Special Coordinator for the Middle East Peace Process Nickolay Mladenov.”
During a phone call July 5 with German Chancellor Angela Merkel, Abbas expressed willingness to resume negotiations with Israel under the auspices of the International Quartet based on international and United Nations resolutions. Chief among these is the cessation of all settlement activities in the occupied Palestinian territories and the establishment of a fully sovereign Palestinian state.
Fahmy said that given the contacts it has with all parties — be they Palestinian, Israeli, American or Gulf states— Egypt is the only country in the region that has the ability to move in all directions to try to converge views.
However, Ghattas expects the failure of any current efforts — be they Egyptian or not — to resume negotiations between the Palestinian and Israeli sides amid the Palestinian unwillingness to make any concessions and the Israeli intransigence to show any flexibility.
The Israeli annexation project, which was scheduled for early July as per Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, was postponed due to the lack of an agreement within the US administration.
Ghattas said the US administration has failed to decide on the issue of annexation because it is taking into consideration international positions, Arab warnings and concerns launched by Jordan, Saudi Arabia and Egypt.
“Washington has taken into consideration many factors, including the timing and its relations with Jordan, Saudi Arabia and Egypt,” Ghattas noted.
He said that the current internal situation in Israel is unfavorable for an annexation process because there is a part of the government coalition that opposes this step, and a potential economic disaster is to ensue due to the high cost of the annexation process at a time when the Israeli economy is grappling with the repercussions of the coronavirus pandemic.
Fahmy did not rule out the fact that Egypt would increase its international diplomatic moves and coordinate with Washington to pressure Tel Aviv into walking away from its plans.
“The annexation idea is still on the table, but Israel is waiting for a better opportunity, timing and conditions,” Ghattas concluded.