President Biden’s Meeting with Mahmoud Abbas Is about Symbolism, Not Substance

On his upcoming trip to the Middle East, Joe Biden is scheduled to visit Bethlehem to meet with the Palestinian Authority (PA) president Mahmoud Abbas, as well as the leaders of Israel and Saudi Arabia. Ghaith al-Omari examines the implications of the expected tête-à-tête:

Since Biden became president . . . he and his administration have rightly concluded that any major initiative to resolve the Israel-Palestinian conflict would be doomed to fail given the prevailing political atmosphere among both parties. Thus, while his team took quick action to reverse some of the Trump administration’s departures from traditional U.S. policy—such as reestablishing relations with the PA and resuming aid to the Palestinian people—it has assiduously avoided high-level entanglement.

Abbas is also presumably aware that no specific foreign-policy outcomes will be forthcoming. Accordingly, he may focus on portraying an uncompromising, principled stance to a skeptical—even critical—domestic audience. This likely means reiterating traditional Palestinian diplomatic positions and making specific demands related to U.S.-PA relations, such as reopening the east Jerusalem consulate, reopening the Palestine Liberation Organization representative office in Washington, and asking the United States to stop considering the PLO a terrorist organization. Although PA officials realize that these demands will not be met, they are probably hoping that tough rhetoric will be enough to appease the general public and fend off attacks from Hamas and other opponents.

In short, for both the White House and the PA, President Biden’s visit to Bethlehem is more about symbolism and optics than diplomatic objectives. The meeting itself is the objective, and the more uneventful it is, the more it will be deemed a success.

Read more at Washington Institute for Near East Policy

More about: Joseph Biden, Mahmoud Abbas, U.S. Foreign policy

Why Egypt Fears an Israeli Victory in Gaza

While the current Egyptian president, Abdel Fattah el-Sisi, has never been friendly to Hamas, his government has objected strenuously to the Israeli campaign in the southernmost part of the Gaza Strip. Haisam Hassanein explains why:

Cairo has long been playing a double game, holding Hamas terrorists near while simultaneously trying to appear helpful to the United States and Israel. Israel taking control of Rafah threatens Egypt’s ability to exploit the chaos in Gaza, both to generate profits for regime insiders and so Cairo can pose as an indispensable mediator and preserve access to U.S. money and arms.

Egyptian security officials have looked the other way while Hamas and other Palestinian militants dug tunnels on the Egyptian-Gaza border. That gave Cairo the ability to use the situation in Gaza as a tool for regional influence and to ensure Egypt’s role in the Palestinian-Israeli conflict would not be eclipsed by regional competitors such as Qatar and Turkey.

Some elements close to the Sisi regime have benefited from Hamas control over Gaza and the Rafah crossing. Media reports indicate an Egyptian company run by one of Sisi’s close allies is making hundreds of millions of dollars by taxing Gazans fleeing the current conflict.

Moreover, writes Judith Miller, the Gaza war has been a godsend to the entire Egyptian economy, which was in dire straits last fall. Since October 7, the International Monetary Fund has given the country a much-needed injection of cash, since the U.S. and other Western countries believe it is a necessary intermediary and stabilizing force. Cairo therefore sees the continuation of the war, rather than an Israeli victory, as most desirable. Hassanein concludes:

Adding to its financial incentive, the Sisi regime views the Rafah crossing as a crucial card in preserving Cairo’s regional standing. Holding it increases Egypt’s relevance to countries that want to send aid to the Palestinians and ensures Washington stays quiet about Egypt’s gross human-rights violations so it can maintain a stable flow of U.S. assistance and weaponry. . . . No serious effort to turn the page on Hamas will yield the desired results without cutting this umbilical cord between the Sisi regime and Hamas.

Read more at Washington Examiner

More about: Egypt, Gaza War 2023, U.S. Foreign policy