Egypt: 'Jerusalem? Let Ramallah be Palestinian capital'
Following Saudi suggestion of Abu Dis as future Palestinian capital, senior Egyptian intelligence officer tells local TV presenters, 'How is Jerusalem different from Ramallah? A renewed intifada will only serve Hamas. Concessions are a must'; public Arab stance remains unchanged, with Arab FMs calling for Jerusalem to serve as Palestinian capital.
The question, hinting at the true Egyptian stance regarding the prospective capital of Palestine, echoes the Saudi suggestion to Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas of about a month ago, which said Abu Dis should be the capital of the Palestinian state.
Both statements shed a light on the true intentions of the pro-Western Arab countries. After Trump's recognition, the New York Times reported the Egyptian officer clandestinely called important Egyptian talk show hosts.
"We publically denounce the decision like our other Arab brethren," said Captain Ashraf al-Kholi, adding that despite appearances he did not consider a confrontation with Israel in Egypt's national interest.
Instead of denouncing the decision, Capt. Al-Kholi advised the presenters, they should convince their viewers to accept it. For their part, the Palestinians, he opined, should settle for Ramallah as their capital.
"How is Jerusalem different from Ramallah, really?" the intelligence officer wondered in the conversation with the four hosts, a recording of which was obtained by the New York Times.
"Exactly that," concurred Azmi Megahed, one the hosts to participate in the conversation who later confirmed the authenticity of the recording to the American paper.
Egyptian media outlets previously reported President Abdel Fattah el-Sisi personally protested to Trump following the American president's recognition. Similarly, Egyptian religious leaders refused to meet with Vice President Mike Pence, and Israel's neighbor to the southwest also submitted a resolution to the United Nations Security Council demanding the Americans recant.
While the American delegation to the United Nations vetoed the decision, a similar resolution passed in the organization's General Assembly days later. With the conversation being revealed, however, it appears the Egyptians' true position was markedly different.
"I was just calling to tell you what our public stance is, so if you go on TV or speak in an interview, I am telling you what is the stance of Egypt's national security apparatus and what it stands to benefit from in this matter of announcing Jerusalem to be the capital of Israel, O.K.?" al-Kholi told one of the hosts.
"We, like all our Arab brothers, are denouncing this matter," he continued, adding, however, that "After that, this thing will become a reality. Palestinians can't resist and we don't want to go to war. We have enough on our plate as you know."
"The point that is dangerous for us is the intifada issue," the intelligence official said. "An intifada would not serve Egypt's national security interests because an intifada would revive the Islamists and Hamas. Hamas would be reborn once more."
"At the end of the day, Jerusalem won't be much different from Ramallah. What matters is ending the suffering of the Palestinian people," al-Kholi concluded. "Concessions are a must and if we reach a concession whereby Ramallah will be the capital of Palestine, to end the war and so no one else dies, then we would go for it."
In the interview, Megahed said he supported al-Kholi's assertion that a renewed outbreak of violence should be avoided. "I am friends with Ashraf and we talk all the time," he said. "Another intifada would be bad."
"We should have buses pick up all the people who say they want to go fight for Jerusalem and actually drive them to Jerusalem. Go fight if you are so tough. People are sick of the slogans and all that. I only care about the interests of my country," the television host said.
Unlike Megahed, a second presenter denied the call took place whereas a third—who is also a member of Egyptian parliament—reneged on his original agreement to be interviewed regarding the conversation. The fourth call was with an Egyptian singer and actress known as Yousra, who could not be reached for comment by the New York Times.
Despite any such private sentiments, the public position of the Arab states has remained unchanged. Arab foreign ministers met in Jordan Saturday in light of developments—both Trump's declaration and the passage of the "Jerusalem Law", requiring any change to Jerusalem's borders be carried out with 80 MKs in favor.
In a press conference held after the meeting, Jordanian Foreign Minister Ayman Safadi said, "We disavow the American decision to recognize Jerusalem as Israel's capital. We will not recognize any Israeli decision on Jerusalem."
"We refuse any action to change Jerusalem's historical and legal standing. We aspire to attain recognition of a Palestinian state whose capital is east Jerusalem. The region will not enjoy security without the creation of a Palestinian state. We will continue taking political and legal measures to tackle any Israeli actions on Jerusalem," Safadi declared.
The foreign minister's king Abdullah II said during the meeting that "Efforts to support the Palestinians and preserve their historical and legal rights to Jerusalem should be ramped up."
"The Jerusalem issue should be settled as part of a permanent solution and a just peace agreement between Israel and the Palestinians, based on the two-state solution," the king said.
Saudi Foreign Minister Adel al-Jubeir said, "The meeting was constructive and we came away with important results: supporting the Palestinian, Arab and Islamic stance on Jerusalem. The Saudi Kingdom's position remains steadfast on defining Jerusalem as the capital of a Palestinian state."
Arab League Secretary-General Egyptian Ahmed Aboul Gheit added, "The meeting's purpose was to focus our United Nations efforts. 14 countries in the Security Council supported our resolution. We'll reconvene in Cairo at the end of January. There has been no change in the Arab position according to which peace remains the interest. The other members of the international Quartet (the European Union, the UN itself and Russia—ed) should also make their voices heard."