The UAE is willing to play a role in peace efforts between Israel and the Palestinians, joining an Egyptian push to bolster a ceasefire in Gaza and de-escalate tensions between the two sides, the Gulf powerbroker’s leadership has said.
Crown Prince Sheikh Mohammed bin Zayed said the Emirates, which signed a peace deal with Israel last year, was willing to mediate between both sides and to support Cairo’s efforts to shore up a truce that brought 11 days of fighting to a close on Friday.
Such a move would mark a rare attempt by the Emirates to support Gaza – a territory in which it has traditionally had little influence and towards whose leadership it has long been hostile. It would also be a test of Palestinian attitudes towards the pact with Israel, which was central to the Abraham Accords and led several other Arab states to follow suit.
The fighting, which claimed 248 lives in Gaza, including 66 children, and 13 in Israel, including 12 civilians – among them two children, has given way to clean-up efforts and diplomacy, which is scrambling to bed down a truce agreed after intensive efforts by Egypt and the US president, Joe Biden.
Despite keeping the Rafah border between Gaza largely closed and maintaining tight security ties with Israel, Egypt has retained significant influence with the Hamas leadership. In past conflicts it has hosted delegations in attempts to broker truces.
However, Cairo’s influence inside Gaza had become much more complicated since 2013, when President Abdel Fatah al-Sisi outlawed the Muslim Brotherhood, the movement that in part gave Hamas an ideological footing. Egypt’s ties with Israel have grown since Sisi took office, and on a security intelligence level are closer than ever.
“Even though people to people normalisation is completely absent between Tel Aviv and Cairo, due to Israel’s continued occupation of the Palestinians, the peace deal of 1981 still makes Cairo unique,” said Dr HA Hellyer, a scholar at the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace.
“The Egyptians do not want Gaza to fall into complete disarray, which would be a strong possibility if the occupied territory is pushed too much, and Hamas knows that as much as they might not like Cairo, they have few options.”
While the Hamas leadership elsewhere in the region has said its ties with Egypt remain tenuous and could change at any time, previous deals have largely been implemented.
“Yes, it’s true there is a mutual interest in talking to them,” said a Hamas official in Lebanon who declined to be named. “We think this will hold, but we don’t think the Emiratis have anything real to offer.”
Hellyer said: “Egypt’s role was crucial in mediating a ceasefire. What was different this time around is that some in DC were taken aback by it, perhaps because they believed their own hype about the much vaunted Abraham Accords with the Emiratis and the Bahrainis.
“The reality was always that these accords would never give signatories clout, not with the Israelis, and definitely not with the Palestinians.”
Elizabeth Tsurkov, a fellow at the Washington DC-based thinktank Newlines Institute, said Egypt’s role as a broker was welcomed by Israel.
“Despite the refusal of the Egyptian regime to turn the ‘cold peace’ with Israel into a real one, or even address the antisemitism prevalent in Egyptian society, Israeli officials see Cairo as a reliable partner on the issues that matter the most to it, which all have to do with security.
“The intelligence and counter-terrorism cooperation between Israel and Egypt has never been tighter, with both countries engaging in countering Isis and weapons smuggling through the Sinai. Israeli officials overwhelmingly saw the 2013 military coup as a positive step that would ensure that actors attune to Israel’s security needs are leading the country once again.”