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Egypt’s envoy to Brussels accuses West of pro-Israel bias

Egypt’s envoy to Brussels accuses West of pro-Israel bias

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BRUSSELS — Egypt’s envoy to Brussels slammed the West’s stance on the Israel-Hamas war, accusing it of having a pro-Israel bias that he says is damaging its reputation in the Middle East.

In an interview in his Brussels residence, Cairo’s top diplomat in the EU capital, Badr Abdelatty, also stressed his country will not accept Palestinian refugees fleeing from Gaza.

“We will not allow the liquidation of the Palestinian cause and to have another Nakba [or “catastrophe” in Arabic, referring to the mass uprooting of Palestinians in the war over Israel’s creation in 1948] at the expense of the neighboring countries, whether it’s Jordan or Egypt,” Abdelatty told POLITICO.

After Hamas killed more than 1,400 people on October 7, Israel launched airstrikes and, recently, ground operations across Gaza, killing more than 8,500 people, including thousands of children, according to the Hamas-run Ministry of Health. Israel has rejected calls for a cease-fire and U.S. President Joe Biden has said he will not call for a cease-fire and he supports Israel’s right to defend itself.

Egypt plays a key role in the conflict between Israel and Hamas, as it provides an entry point for humanitarian aid to civilians in Gaza via the Rafah border crossing. Prior to the war between Israel and Hamas, hundreds of aid trucks went into Gaza via the Rafah border crossing daily, which the majority of the Israeli-occupied territory has relied upon since 2007 after Israel blockaded its land, air and sea borders when Hamas took control, severely limiting the movement of goods and people in and out of Gaza. Since the start of the war, aid trucks have only trickled in via the Rafah border crossing.

Egypt also recently hosted a peace conference in Cairo.

The Egyptian diplomat said that public opinion in the Middle East has a harsh assessment of the West’s stance on the conflict, claiming that “double standards” are undermining the West’s reputation in the region.

“Public opinion in the whole region is shocked, [is] very upset with this biased attitude,” he said. “And there is a sense of conviction among the public opinion in our neighborhood that [in the eyes of the West] the lives of the Westerners are more precious than the lives of the Palestinians.”

Abdelatty vented his frustration at “some speeches [that had] a completely biased point of view,” although he stopped short of naming who gave those speeches.

He also warned that the fallout from the conflict could lead to more migrants arriving in Europe and fuel fundamentalism on the EU’s doorstep. “Put yourself in the shoes of kids who are 10 years old and they are losing their families. What do you expect from them in the future?” he asked.

His comments come amid a backlash — including from some EU staffers — against European Commission President Ursula von der Leyen’s stance on the conflict. Von der Leyen has been accused of taking a strong pro-Israel line.

Abdelatty stressed that hosting a second international peace conference — an idea backed by EU leaders after intense pressure from Spain — is key to relaunching the peace process between Israel and Palestine.

An Israeli tank rolling amid ongoing battles between Israel and the Palestinian Hamas movement | Yuri Cortez/AFP via Getty Images

“Without solving the Palestinian issue there will be no peace and stability in the region,” said Abdelatty, who called for a two-state solution and the establishment of an independent Palestinian state with East Jerusalem as its capital — using the borders from June 4, 1967, the day before Israel’s occupation of the West Bank, Gaza and East Jerusalem.

He added that the three most urgent priorities for Egypt are an immediate ceasefire; “having sustainable and unconditional flow of humanitarian and medical assistance;” and creating “a political horizon,” meaning the resumption of talks between the two sides based on internationally agreed parameters.

Aid deal with the EU

Cairo’s envoy to Brussels poured cold water on suggestions that the EU is close to agreeing on an aid deal with Egypt.

Von der Leyen wrote to EU leaders last week, pushing for an economic agreement with Cairo. Such as deal would mark a new step in the Commission’s strategy of funneling EU cash to northern African countries in a bid to support their economies and halt migration flows to Europe.

Abdelatty stressed that any agreement on economic cooperation with the EU would have nothing to do with the situation in Gaza. He added that formal talks with the EU have not yet begun and declined to give a timeline for any potential agreement, although a meeting of the EU-Egypt Association Council is slated for January 2024.

Migrant departures from Egypt are close to zero but the country does host some 9 million refugees and many Egyptians cross the border to Libya, a key departure point for Europe.

Cairo’s envoy asked the EU to double the current €160 million funding for Egypt to patrol its borders and support the refugees living there.

He emphasized that any future deal with Brussels should go beyond migration and boost the economy of the Arab country by closing its trade gap with the EU.  

“[The agreement should be] based on a win-win situation and real partnership, not anymore a donor-recipient [relationship],” said the ambassador.

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