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Trump, Al-Sisi, and the Israel-Palestine Conflict

On Monday, President Trump met with Egyptian President Abdel Fattah el-Sisi and discussed the problem of the century, the Israel-Palestine conflict. President el-Sisi was also the first president to congratulate Donald Trump on his victory in the 2016 presidential election. Mr. Sisi believes that the United States, under Trump, could be a broker that resolves this issue once and for all: “You, Mr. President, can find a solution.” Mr. Sisi also stated that the United States and Egypt could play a positive role in the “the deal of the century.” During his visit, the Egyptian president called the United States a great friend and ally.

Egypt is an interesting country in the Israel-Palestine conflict. It was one of two Arab states along with Jordan to trade-off peace for land with the Israelis when Israel withdrew its forces from the Sinai Peninsula in exchange for peace, and Egypt became the first Arab state to recognize the state of Israel. In addition, both Egypt and Jordan will continue to play a major role in the peace process.

Not only is Egypt an ally of Israel, but it fully recognizes a Palestinian state. During the Obama presidency, Mr. Sisi was not even invited to the White House and it took the United States almost a year to recognize his legitimacy. In addition, Egypt was critical of the Obama administration for not taking a more active role to advance the Israel-Palestine peace process. Unfortunately, the administration ignored Palestinian rights, and did not hold Israel accountable for their expansion of settlements. In response to Egypt’s role in the Israel-Palestinian conflict, Donald Trump welcomes Egypt as a positive broker for a resolution and, “He wants greater Egyptian involvement in the peace process between Israel and the Palestinians.”

The questions for the Trump administration have yet to be answered even though he has only been in office three months. Some of these questions include: is the Trump administration willing to use its leverage on Israel? How can President Trump recognize the rights of Palestinians? And finally, is the two-state solution dead, and if so, what are the other alternatives?

So far, the United States has not been able to use its leverage on the Israelis to stop the expansion of settlements. Egypt was one of the non-permanent members of UN resolution 2334 which called for an end to Israeli settlement building and framed Israel’s actions as a violation of international law. In fact, of the five members of the UN Security Council, the United States was the only member to abstain from the resolution while China, Russia, France, and Great Britain voted for the resolution. Additionally, Israel is already one state which includes the Golan Heights, the Shebaa Farms in southern Lebanon, as well as the West Bank and Gaza. It is almost impossible to find the land for a Palestinian state as long as Israel continues to build settlements on Palestinian land under international law.

The Israel-Palestine issue is not only an issue of physical barriers, but it is an issue of politics. The settlements continue to be a stumbling block to peace, but the United Nations has seen an increase in settlement construction recently. It is also reported that President Trump convinced Sisi to withdraw the UN resolution and President Trump is still committed to moving the American Embassy from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem. However, President Sisi disagrees with this assessment.

Egypt is in quite a unique position when it comes to the Israel-Palestine issue. What Egypt could do is use its leverage to try and convince the U.S. and Israel to abide by international law and get the members in the United Nations, including the Arab states, to add more pressure to the expansion of settlements in accordance with the fourth Geneva Accords and even lay out the option of preserving the 1967 borders. Also, Egypt can be a positive broker in the conflict by negotiating with both the Israelis, the Americans, and the Palestinians to maybe rejuvenate the two-state solution and respect the rights of the Palestinian people. Unfortunately, the Israelis and the Americans do not see the issue as a zero-sum game where the Palestinians have nothing while Israel has everything.