Holding the Egyptian-Jordanian-Palestinian tripartite summit in Cairo on January 17, 2023, comes as the first official Arab action after the formation of an Israeli government headed by Benjamin Netanyahu, whose policies and orientations are believed to escalate the field tensions in the West Bank. Hence, the significance of the summit: developing a unified Arab position and strategy that responds to the challenges arising from the orientations of the new Israeli government, specifically its attempts to change the status quo in East Jerusalem and its holy sites in the West Bank.
Such challenges, as well as other issues, were discussed during the summit, not only because of their impact on the situation inside Palestine, but also because of the challenges they may entail for Jordan, Egypt, and the entire region. Responding to these challenges is a top priority for regional security.
It is no exaggeration to describe the Cairo summit as a summit to address ever-present challenges in the region that have become, both in quantity and threat level, more entangled and complex after the formation of the new Israeli government. Political, security, and economic challenges intersect on several common arenas involving Palestine, Jordan, and Egypt.
First, the crisis of the Palestinian Authority is deepening in the West Bank, an area already suffering from internal crises at the economic, political, and security levels. It is believed that the new Israeli government is seeking to redefine the role of the Palestinian Authority and limit it to specific geographical areas classified as “A” and “B,” which constitute approximately 40 percent of the West Bank. This limitation threatens the “two-state solution” that would establish an independent Palestinian state alongside Israel as proposed by the landmark 1994 Oslo Accord. Netanyahu and his government reject the agreement signed by both Israel and Palestine but are unable to cancel it due to its international political and legal support.
In this context, the Israeli government’s actions and decisions may perpetuate a new reality in the West Bank, as evidenced by the approval of Netanyahu’s cabinet on January 5, 2022, to freeze the plans to build Palestinians in the areas of the West Bank classified (C), which constitute more than 60 percent of the area of the West Bank. The new Israeli government also decided to extend for an additional five years the Judea and Samaria law Israel enacted as an emergency regulation 55 years ago following the Six Day War. This law ensures that illegal Israeli settlers living in the West Bank’s Occupied Palestinian Territories are protected by Israeli civil law while Palestinians in the territories or living in Israel are ruled by Israeli military laws.
These decisions—along with the transfer of civil administration powers in the West Bank to Finance Minister Bezalel Smotrich, which two of the prime minister’s chief military legal advisors warned him would be viewed by the International Court of Justice in The Hague as an illegal de facto annexation—could further deepen the West Bank’s economic hardship and narrow the Palestinian Authority’s powers in Areas A and B, where the it exercises control in accordance with the 1993 and 1995 Oslo Accords.
Second, Jordan finds itself concerned with the new realities in the Palestinian territories, especially since the recent Israeli discourse and measures would change the temporal and spatial data in East Jerusalem, including the Hashemite custodianship of Islamic and Christian holy sites. King Abdullah II of Jordon has warned the Israeli government against violating the red lines protecting Jordanian interests and its custodianship is one of its brightest red lines protecting the heart of Jordan’s vital space.
Jordan is preparing to engage in a diplomatic campaign to confront any new Israeli arrangements in East Jerusalem and the West Bank. This includes direct diplomatic confrontation with Israel as witnessed by the repeated summoning of the Israeli ambassador to Jordan to protest his government’s decisions, intensifying the diplomatic effort at the regional level with the tripartite summit, and narrowing the margin of the Israeli maneuvers in the international society.
The results of the Jordan’s diplomatic campaign were clear in the international reaction to Ben-Gvir’s visit to the Al-Aqsa Mosque compound, which received widespread Arab, Islamic, and international condemnations. Jordan’s campaign efforts also resulted in an international reaction against the objection of Israeli security to the Jordanian ambassador in Tel Aviv when he tried to visit Al-Aqsa Mosque. A subsequent visit to Al-Aqsa Mosque by 28 diplomats from European Union countries came to emphasize the international position on the need to maintain the status quo in Jerusalem.
Third, Egypt is also involved in the Palestinian issue and the new arrangements and procedures in the Gaza Strip in particular. Egypt fears that the Israeli government’s implementation of its right-wing policies will exacerbate the deteriorating security situation in the West Bank and thus strengthen the power of Hamas in the West Bank and the Gaza Strip at a time when Hamas is seeking to present itself as an acceptable party at the regional and international levels.
Meanwhile, the implicit security understandings between Israel and Hamas that help maintain peace in the Gaza Strip are unraveling, especially since the recent escalation between Israel and Hamas. This is in addition to the Israeli escalation against the al-Jihad al-Islami movement that underscores the vanishing gaps between what is happening in East Jerusalem, the West Bank, and the Gaza Strip, threatening hard-won understandings and multiplying the chances of a return to violent clashes and further escalation in the Gaza Strip that will have deleterious repercussions on Cairo, which is heavily involved in this file.
The Trilateral Summit and Possible Responses
The final 2023 summit statement addressing these challenges showed unity in strategic vision and political positions. It stressed the need to preserve the legitimate rights of the Palestinian people and to achieve a just and comprehensive peace based on the two-state solution. The statement also sought to hold the international community responsible for confronting unilateral Israeli measures regarding illegal settlements, the displacement of Palestinians, the continuous Israeli incursions into Palestinian cities, and its recent attempts to change the historical and legal status of Jerusalem and its holy sites.
The statement was also clear in terms of its affirmation of the Jordanian Hashemite custodianship of Islamic and Christian holy sites in Jerusalem, the entire Temple Mount as a place of worship for Muslims, and that the Jerusalem Endowment Department within the Jordanian Ministry of Religious Endowments (Awqaf) is the only body authorized to manage the affairs of and regulate access to the Al-Aqsa Mosque, al-Haram al-Sharif (the Temple Mount), and other holy sites in the Israeli-occupied city.
The statement also touched on the importance of ending the internal division in Palestine that weakens the unity of the Palestinian position in defending its cause. Last, but not least, it stressed the need to take serious and effective measures to alleviate the deteriorating living conditions of the Palestinian people.
In the same context, the summit showed that the strong unity of the strategic vision and political position shared by the three countries is a prelude to transforming them into effective policies and actions in the face of the Israeli government’s accelerated daily policies and actions on the ground.
In this regard, any discussion on the tripartite summit necessarily calls for addressing the more recent consultative meeting in hosted by UAE President Sheikh Mohamed bin Zayed Al Nahyan with the leaders of Jordan, Egypt, Qatar, Bahrain, and Oman. The Palestinian cause was present in the leaders’ consultative discussions in Abu Dhabi, which followed the tripartite summit and the Negev Forum working groups’ first meeting that included the UAE, Bahrain, Egypt, Morocco, the United States, and Israel.
Arab nations are responding to the challenges that may emerge from the new Israeli government through four key avenues.
First, pushing for maximizing understandings and commonalities between the two parties to the Palestinian division, Fatah and Hamas, through the implementation of practical steps to strengthen reconciliation agreements such as the "Algiers Agreement" in 2022 that seeks to ensure the unity of Palestinian representation and the Palestinian cause by blocking any projects that could turn the Gaza Strip into a literal or figurative battlefield for the Palestinian people.
Second, sustaining the diplomatic confrontation with Israel with strong and unified warning messages to its new government about the consequences of repeated attacks on Jerusalem, its holy sites, specifically the Al-Aqsa Mosque, and attempts to harm the Hashemite custodianship over it.
Third, contributing to ending the financial crisis of the Palestinian Authority by pressing for the activation of the Arab insurance network and activating the role of the League of Arab States to confront the continuous Israeli deductions from Palestinian clearance funds.
Fourth, continuing permanent coordination and continuous work with international allies and maintaining unity of position regarding the Palestinian cause.
The Arab countries endeavor over the past years to achieve economic integration requires strengthening political understandings and coordination between countries in the region on political positions regarding its core issues. In this regard, the consultative meeting hosted by the United Arab Emirates with the participation of leaders from the Gulf countries as well as Jordan and Egypt is an important step in right direction.