President Al-Sisi of Egypt is fast becoming a leading regional figure, as is to be expected from an Egyptian leader. That in itself is not a surprise, as Egypt's leaders have traditionally behaved as if they are the responsible actors in a wild neighborhood. And yet Al-Sisi manages to stand out as a different type of a regional leader. He said a few days ago, on the eve of a visit in Italy, that Egypt will be ready to participate in a political settlement between Israel and the the Palestinian Authority [PA] by sending troops to the Palestinian territories in order to ensure a regime of security, for both Palestinians and Israelis.
In a region prone for bad news, this is nothing short of a dramatic development. Sure, as usual, the devil is in the details, and we are all so far from the stage where there are Israeli-Palestinian negotiations, let alone negotiations about the details, but Al-Sisi showed that he is somebody else -- a leader who is ready to change the disc and move on to unexplored territory when limbo seems to be the order of the day. A good and very timely reminder to Abbas, Netanyahu and Secretary Kerry.
Egypt did not send this signal to Hamas though, as the terrorist rulers of Gaza continue to provoke troubles in the Sinai desert, where the Egyptian army is locked in a deadly battle with Islamic terrorists, which the Egyptians believe are actively supported by Hamas.
In fact, the Egyptians have borrowed an old and not all too successful Israeli concept about security zones, and they established one on their side of the border with Gaza. It is not done so softly, in fact it is an operation which would have unleashed world-wide condemnation were it to be carried out by Israel; but the silence over what the Egyptians are doing just shows, again, that the Gaza lobby is nothing but another display of Israel bashing.
Be that as it may, the fact is that Egypt does not trust Hamas in dealing with its own security, which is just another indication that the Egyptian leadership does not think that Hamas could be credible partners for any lasting arrangement.
So, the Al-Sisi idea is primarily a challenge to Abbas and Netanyahu. The PA will find it more acceptable to have Egyptian troops on its soil than any other force, surely one composed of Europeans and Americans, whether under a NATO umbrella, or even the UN. It will be altogether almost impossible politically to other powers to object to an Arab force being stationed in the Palestinian territories, and surely not if this force will get the sanction of the Arab League.
The Arab League will be amenable to the idea if Israel will show any inclination to negotiate a settlement based on the Arab peace initiative, which as it stands now CANNOT be a basis for a settlement, but possibly for the start of negotiations.
That said, the hot potato is in the court of Netanyahu and Israel. During the recent Gaza operation, Israeli leaders, not least Netanyahu himself, were publicly gratified by the very clear-cut Egyptian position against Hamas -- a position which reflected a new emerging reality in the Middle East, one in which Israel is becoming an actor alongside Arab players, and in this case, the most important Arab state, and not, as has been since 1948, on the opposite side of the entire Arab world. In the summer of 2014, Israel was on one side with more Arabs than what Hamas was.
But this is not something that can be taken for granted by Israel, and there are no free meals. As was suggested by this blog, the Egyptians did not give carte blanche to Israel, rather they did what was in their best interest and that coincided with Israel's, but they gained also the right to have a larger measure than ever before of Israeli trust and good will.
Put in sum, it is the interest of Israel to have Egypt play a significant role in any future settlement with the PA, and clearly to accept it will require a change of the disc also in Jerusalem. Not abandoning Israel's natural and legitimate suspicions about any third party participating in the security regime accompanying any political agreement (surely suspicions regarding an Arab party, EVEN Egypt), but readiness to understand that any settlement would require an Arab umbrella of support, and this is exactly where Egypt could play such a positive role.
It may very well be that this piece is way ahead of itself, almost a political fantasy discussion, but in fairness to President Al-Sisi, he may have broken a totally new ground, and with it should come a serious deliberation of his idea.