North Africa, West Asia

The road to Jerusalem

Labelling the conflict 'Palestinian-Israeli' is misleading. It is not simply a conflict over the future of Palestine. It is also a conflict over the future of the Arab world; a conflict that will be determined by the success or failures of the Arab revolt.    

Maged Mandour
28 July 2014

The road to Jerusalem does not go through Gaza or the West Bank, it goes through Cairo. Egypt’s unique geopolitical position plays a crucial role in the future of Palestine and it all depends on changes in the Egyptian power structures.

After Egypt’s defeat to Israel in 1967, and Nasser’s death in 1970, the Egyptian political leadership decided to compete with Israel for the position of primary ally of the United States in the Middle East. The military elites offered their services in coopting radical movements and indirectly supporting Israel in its colonization of Palestine. When Egypt signed the Camp David Accords, the largest Arab army and the only power in the Middle East that could have balanced this conflict was sidelined, paving the way for the increased colonization of Palestine, as well the expansion of Israeli power in the Arab East, the West Bank and Gaza.

Egypt threw its political weight behind the 'moderates' and those who were deemed to be suitable 'partners' for negotiations, by Israel and the United States, in effect, leading to the creation of a Palestinian Authority (PA). The PA has acted as a surrogate for Israel, suppressing acts of resistance and attempting to delegitimize other movements resisting the occupation. Based on this, Egypt’s current position as an active participant in the blockade of Gaza, falls within the broader Egyptian policy of coopting radical movements in the Arab world.

In exchange for this role, Egypt has received large amounts of military and non-military aid and loans, allowing the current military regime to maintain its primacy among other social forces in Egypt. This has also allowed the Egyptian elites to maintain the structure of the state as a rentier state, in effect, linking the repression of the Palestinians and the Egyptians in a disturbing and twisted manner, where the same Egyptian military elite maintain their position by suppressing their fellow countrymen and the Palestinians abroad - creating an organic link between the Egyptian elites and the broader colonial project in the Middle East, spearheaded by Israel. Thus, the position of Egypt regarding mass murder in Gaza is not surprising.

Some might argue, and this position is prevalent among large segments of the Egyptian middle class, that there is no good reason for Egypt to get involved in the conflict that is taking place at its door step. A myth is being propagated by large segments of Egyptian intellectuals and media outlets, to the effect that Egypt has made altruistic sacrifices for the Palestinian cause, and that the time has come to put Egypt first. A major fallacy and falsification of history.

Historically, the clash was between progressive forces in Egypt that had hoped to lead the Arab world and the colonial project, namely Israel, whose goal was to inhibit the development of any progressive forces in the region that might challenge western, or more specifically, American hegemony. The clash was not directly related to the protection of the Palestinian cause: it was a clash between Egyptian aspirations for hegemony, and the nature of the Israeli state, as a colonial project designed to inhibit such attempts. Egyptian foreign policy is currently focused on supporting Egypt's domestic elites by soliciting American political and economic support, which goes a long way towards explaining American silence towards the heavy repression and abuse of human rights currently taking place in Egypt by the regime.

From the perspective of national security, leverage over movements dominating Gaza is essential for maintaining Egyptian national security. This makes the policy of demonizing Hamas, by connecting it to the demonized Muslim Brotherhood without a single shred of evidence, both foolish and short sighted. From a wider perspective, the current Egyptian policy of supporting Israel is depriving Egypt of its appeal to the wider region, leading to the erosion of its 'soft power' and its ability to exert intellectual influence beyond its borders. This is resulting in the loss of its strategic depth, and ironically, its value to the US.  Egypt should support the Palestinians, lift the blockade imposed on Gaza, and try to increase its leverage over Hamas, rather than demonize and alienate it further.

Meanwhile, the fate of the Palestinians is directly connected to the ebbs and flows of the Egyptian revolt. If the Egyptian revolt is able to alter domestic power distribution, breaking the hegemony of the military elites in Cairo, then Egyptian foreign policy might revert to its more natural position of supporting the Palestinian cause. The success of an Egyptian revolution would not only undermine the repressive structures in Egypt: it would undermine colonial structures throughout the region, especially in Palestine.

In conclusion, one could argue that labelling this conflict 'Palestinian-Israeli' is calculated to mislead. This naming deliberately truncates the conflict and masks its reality. It is not simply a conflict over the future of Palestine. It is also a conflict over the future of the Arab world, and the role that Egypt will play in the region; a conflict that will be determined by the success or failures of the Arab revolt.                

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