Category Archives: Egypt


Blog 343 March 27, 2017

I am often asked if I foresee a military conflict on the horizon for Israel with the militants. Answering that question correctly is like guessing what outlandish “tweet” we will get next from President Trump. Unpredictability seems to be the new order of the day. However, we can discover a few certainties that are probabilities.

Hamas has just appointed Yahya Sinwar as Gaza’s new leader. He succeeds Khaled Mashaal who has his eyes on taking over the PLO and replacing Mahmoud Abbas as the Palestinian president. With no specific title, Sinwar will become the de facto head of Gaza. As you may know, the city of Gaza is still little more than a heap of rubble. As for Israeli-Palestinian negotiations, the election of Sinwar is another nail in the coffin. When Trump and Netanyahu met in February, Trump’s statements only added to the Middle-East chaos.

The Jerusalem Report, March 6, 2017, states that Sinwar knows the Islamist Palestinian movement is under full siege by Israel and Egyptian blockades will continue. As the same time, the rift between the PLO and Hamas is predicted to widen. He will have to work within that framework. Before any military action can occur, Sinwar must collaborate with colleagues in a collective and elaborate process. At this point, columnist Yossi Melman does not believe that Hamas wants a military engagement anywhere in the near future.

And who is Yahya Sinwar?

The former director of both the political arm and the military wing of Hamas, he could be compared to a general. For his murderous terrorist’s acts, Israel sentenced him to four life terms. During his time in prison, he rose to prominence among the Palestinian inmates. From his cell, he communicated with Hamas leaders the idea of using prisoners as “bargaining chips” in prisoner swaps with captured Israeli citizens and soldiers. After 22 years in prison, he was released in the controversial exchange for Gilad Schalit.

Once released, Sinwar told a gathering of 200,000 Gazans that he stood for uncompromising military confrontation with Israel. It now appears he will press for better relations with Iran in hopes of collecting more money and arms. Even in Hamas terms, Sinwar is considered an extremist. Of course, he rejects all attempts at compromise with Israel and the PLO. His election reflects the ascendency of the military wing of Hamas.

Shaul Mishal, an expert in Palestinian politics, believes Sinwar will be a new test for Israel’s political and military leaders. They know he remains more than ready to resort to violence.

Stay tuned. More to come.

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Blog 322 October 16, 2016

With the crazy, bizarre twists and turns of the current political campaign for the Presidency, other stories have been pushed out of the headlines. The American electorate wakes up every morning to a new revelation or accusation that leaves them dumbfounded. Ah! But you have more profound concerns that keep your interest percolating around the larger situation occurring across the world – and the Middle East in particular.


While they have hardly even been on the back page, the Egyptians continue to dig out from under the revolt that threw out the Moslem Brotherhood and put Morsi in jail. A number of significant events have occurred that you should know about.

While not an alliance, the relationship between Egypt and Israel continues to improve and becomes increasingly significant. There now exists an unprecedented level of mutual understanding and cooperation between the two countries. Israel has agreed to allow Egypt to exceed their treaty agreement by bringing in larger number of troops and heavy weapons into the Sinai. The eruption of radical Muslim attacks from the Sinai has been a concern for both countries and increased military presence is an asset for both sides.

Both countries agree on the problem of Hamas as well as the unwelcome efforts of Turkey to assume a large role in the region. Israel and Egypt see Iran as attempting to assert more power at a high cost to the whole area. Both countries have now exchanged ambassadors. Egypt’s new position represents somewhat of a crack in any Arab alliance.  However tension continues to exist between the Muslim majority and the Coptic Christian minority in Egypt. Muslim clerics continue to harass the Coptics and attacks on churches is common. However, an important step was taken in August that would facilitate the acquisition of building permits for churches. Egypt’s new constitution states a guarantee of freedom of religious rituals for Christians. This is an important step forward for the Christian community.

The three Christian denominations in Egypt – Coptics, Anglicans, and Roman Catholics—recognize problems in the new Constitution, but continue to hope for improvements in the near future. Probably few will be achieved even with the backing of President Abdel Fattah al-Sisi.

In 2011, there were an estimated 2,860 churches compared with 108,000 mosques. The numbers tell the tale. Egypt remains a Muslim country. Change is cumbersome because of a corrupt Egyptian bureaucracy. Eighty percent of the Muslims believe Sharia law must be the basis for an Egyptian constitution. Nevertheless, it is hoped that something approaching civil society may be emerging in Egypt.

Certainly, Egypt is changing and from a democratic point-of-view the country is on an uphill climb. The extreme fears created by the Muslim Brotherhood appear to have disappeared and a more equable society seems to be emerging.

Such change is good for Israel, the Middle East, and certainly the Egyptian people.




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BLOG 299 April 18, 2016

The pot continues to boil. The Middle East remains the hot spot and important for us to understand. Peace talks to end the Syrian war remain shaky. Sporadic fighting between rival groups, the Kurds, and the government threaten the entire process. Russia has sought to reassure Israel over the meaning of its withdrawal of airplanes and troops from Syria – but Israel is still scratching its head, trying to figure out what’s really going on.

Meanwhile, politicians screaming at each other grab the American headlines. More for entertainment than insight, Americans watch everyday as a new truckload of crazy is unloaded. Unfortunately, their attention is diverted from the Middle East where updated insight is far more important. Take Egypt for instance. How long has it been since you read anything about the Sisi government and struggles in Egypt?

Here’s a quick catch up.

ISIS forces and their affiliates operating in Sinai along with Hamas dominance in Gaza have created an important positive relationship between Israel and Egypt. The government of Abdel Fattah el-Sisi recognized the danger that the Muslim Brotherhood brought against the established state and overthrew Morsi government to stop the armed chaos. Of course, the Israeli government was highly encouraged by these actions and supported General el-Sisi’s shift to a civilian politician and becoming the president of Egypt.

The honeymoon has not stopped.

However, the larger Egyptian public continues to view Israel as their enemy and see the Israelis as a hostile force. Sisi is caught in the pinchers between what is militarily positive and negative public opinion. He knows Hamas continues to aid jihadist groups in Sinai that attack Egyptian soldiers and personnel. Egypt stood with Israel in rejecting the lifting of restrictions imposed on the Gaza Strip. The world recognizes that the 1.8 million Gaza inhabitants are on the verge of a serious humanitarian crisis, but Egypt and Israel also recognize the danger that underground re-armaments could produce.

Sisi’s problems are not with Israel but at home. Only financial aid from Saudi Arabia and their Gulf State allies kept Egypt from going bankrupt. A $30 billion grant kept Egypt from sinking. Today, growing unemployment and the devaluation of the Egyptian pound is profoundly affecting spiraling prices. Only a draconian law prohibiting demonstrations and curbing free speech has kept rioters off the streets. The backlash has produced a growing anger at Sisi and his government.

The continued warfare in Sinai (even with Israeli help and backing) is taking a toll at home with Egyptians increasingly resentful with the bloody fighting. Growing socioeconomic hardships deepen public frustration and fuel the arguments that Sisi has failed to control their problems. The revolution in Egypt is far from over and the future is covered with depressing clouds. No one is sure of where it’s all going.

Stay tuned.

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BLOG 270 September 14, 2015

The stability that the al-Sisi government has been attempting to establish in Egypt has been shaken. When the former general and his cohorts overturned President Mohamed Morsi and the Moslem Brotherhood in 2013, the vast majority of Egyptians sighed in relief. Unfortunately, it has been an uphill climb ever since. Now, the Egyptian government has taken a downhill slide. This week the former Prime Minister was forced to resign.

President Sisi immediately instructed Sherif Ismail who had been the petroleum ministry to form a new government within a week. Apparently, Sisi does not want to allow any time to lapse that might allow further chaos to explode somewhere in the country. Possibly, Sisi is acting so quickly to prevent the next parliament from appointing the government.

Prime Minister Ibrahim Mehleb resigned in the midst of many high level, high-profit accusations of corruption. On Tuesday, Mehleb was holding a news conference in Tunisia when a reporter asked him a question about his participation in corruption charges. Mehleb wouldn’t answer and abruptly walked out. Earlier, it had been reported that Mehleb was involved when former President Hosni Mubarak and his two sons were convicted of embezzling funds that were meant to be spent in renovating the presidential palace. The reporter in Tunisia pointed out that a former minister of agriculture who resigned because of corruption had been reappointed by Mehleb and now both men are accused of involvement in the presidential palace scandal.

One of the major problems in Egypt is that corruption is so widespread. Earlier in the week Salah Helai the agriculture minister resigned in the midst of his arrest in a corruption investigation. Helai and several of his officials were charged with accepting brides in exchange for land licenses.

How does such corruption happen? It’s a way of life in Egypt. A few bucks here and there helps to speed matters along. Sisi’s problem is that these officials at the top practice greed on such a vast scale, that eventually the magnitude of the corruption can’t be overlooked.

In a few weeks, the first parliamentary elections in the new government are supposed to beheld. To have the government become shaky on the eve of this important step forward is not a good sign. These upheavals in the government underscore Sisi’s political dilemma and his failure in solving a number of problems facing Egypt. The steady deterioration in security is troubling as the government continues to fight with terrorist in the Sinai Peninsula. These Muslim militants have escalated their often brazen attacks. The elections in October will surely be influenced by these issues.

In the face of these problems, an Egyptian judge sentenced three journalist to three years in prison for reporting information exposing problems in the government. There was widespread belief that the charges were baseless and that no evidence was offered to collaborate the accusations. The charges were that the three reporters from the Al Jazeera network had “broadcasted false news.”The United States State Department responded that the verdict left the USA “deeply disappointed and concerned.”

America has always maintained that freedom of the expression and the press is necessary for any countries stability and development.

While Sisi needs the support the United States, such corrupt court decisions and capricious judgements aren’t going to help him get it.


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Blog 266 August 17, 2015

This week Libya called on fellow Arab states for air strikes against the ISIS terrorist branch operating in their country in the costal city of Surt. During the past week, ISIS crushed a Salafist group trying to break their control of that city. Dozens were killed. On Wednesday ISIS troops also struck soldiers loyal to the official government in Benghazi. Nine soldiers were killed, a tank destroyed, and vehicles knocked out. The commercial airport in Benghazi has been closed for a year. It is not clear how Arab states like Saudi Arabia will respond. The point is that these battles paint a picture of ISIS on the move in a nation far away from their center in Syria. A situation to be remembered.

Moving over one country, Egypt continues to struggle in a life and death conflict with the same elements. A Sinai-based Islamist insurgency continues to rage with both Israel and Egypt concerned about this destructive presence. These rebels coming out of the Sinai desert have proven persistent.

The current Egyptian government under President Abdel Fattah al-Sisi remains stable and in control but has not yet stopped the same upraising that is now plaguing Libya.

A current assessment indicates that the jihadists will stay cornered in northeastern Sinai, but they are not being permanently defeated. Egypt’s problem is that they need new equipment and particularly drones. As America has repeatedly performed across the entire Middle East under the Obama administration, the United States has been slow to the pont of being negligible in providing arms and assistance to meet these needs. In fact, after the military coup that defeated the Moslem Brotherhood and brought al-Sisi to power, American waited so long to help that Egypt began conversations with Putin to supply these needs.

In January, radical Sunni militants killed 40 Egyptian soldiers. The group called itself Ansar Beit al-Maqdis and declared an affiliation with ISIS. At that time, al-Sisi lambasted radical Islam as being a perversion of “true religion.” He cited the need for a genuine “religious revolution.” How right he was!

I once landed in the Sinai and remember humidity of a minus 20 (my immaginary calculation). Never have I experienced such an arid land! One quick glance revealed decades of neglect. The sparse security naturally invited illegal trafficking resulting in a flow of arms, drugs, migrants, and prostitution has been rumored. In the ‘80’s when Israel withdrew and turned the territory back to Egypt, plans were made for development that never came to pass. Because of the failed promises, a growing sense of alienation from Egypt developed what has today produced the Ansar Beit al-Maqdis and any other jihadist’s group. With the fall of Hosni Mubarak, the army concentrated on urban areas, leaving the Sinai alone. Smuggling goods into the Gaza Strip became big business.

Al-Sisis has the restoration of internal security in Egypt and Sinai at the top of his list and has broad popular support for this effort. In addition, Israel stands behind this effort to clean out the jihadists and will support Egypt’s efforts.

That’s a plus for sure.


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Blog 259 June 29, 2015

Keeping up with the Middle East requires one to pay constant attention because change  never stops. For example, Egypt seems to be softening in its relationship with the Gaza strip. For the first time, cement and building materials have been allowed to go through. The behind the scenes sources report that Hamas has begun quiet negotiations with Israel through an intermediary to attempt to ease the tight restrictions on the territory. The truth is that Hamas is in bad shape financial. Matters are not good with the terrorist organization so they may be open to a few genuine changes. We will see.

Matters are changing in Syria big time. The Assad regime had to absorb a number of serious losses. They now control less that half of what was formerly Syria.

A number of years ago, I traveled across Syria and stayed in Damascus. The ancient city with the street called Straight still runs like an arrow from one end to the other. At the far end, one can descend steps and come to the room where by tradition blind Saul was healed and became Paul, the apostle to the Gentiles. Of course, the entire country is Muslim and what was once a great church in the center of old Damascus is now a mosque.

My most memorable experience was the constant viewing of the ubiquitous pictures of Hafez Assad (already dead) and his son Bashar ( the then ruler) Everywhere from Taxis to bathrooms, there were the portraits of the two men placed side by side. If you hadn’t picked up the fact that you were in a dictatorship before you arrived, you certainly would soon know! The heritage that Hafez left to Bashar is now in shambles and probably can never be put back together. We have to give Bashar Assad credit for staying in power for 15 years, He’s been at the top longer than Churchill, Ben-Guriom, or Charles de Gaulle, but the question is how much longer can he hang on. Unfortunately, both the United States and Europe have refused to recognize the Syrian situation for what it is. A minority (the Alawites) have maintained a brutal occupation over a majority that is ten times their size (the rests of Syria). All of this was kept in place by generals who supported Hafez Assad when he seized control and began a 30-year rule. When he died, Bashar Assad promised change. The start of the current civil war was actually a clash of different tribes as well as an internal resistance to any significant change. The failure of Bashar Assad to deal with issues like a growing water problem, a struggling labor market, and a defunct economy led to the current civil war and crisis.

The result is that at least 200,000 Syrian civilians  have been killed to date along with 10,000 children. Half of the nation has been displaced. Assad is now completely dependent on Iran and Hezbollah for assistance.  If Assad rejected an Iranian demand and they pulled back, he would be gone.

Can the Assad regime survive? The best calculation is probably only as long as Iran props them up. Assad has had plenty of losses and survived. The end is not in sight but the deterioration  continues.

A sad, sad mess. Anybody for change?

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Filed under Egypt, Iran, Israel, middle east, Syria


BLOG 252 May 11, 2015

I have always resisted the urge to blame “this, that, or the other thing” on the media. After all, their job is to report the facts whether we like the truth or not (though they conjecture about “possibilities” far too often). However, lately it seems Washington has learned how to manipulate the media by what the government says or doesn’t say. Case in point: Heard anything about Egypt lately?

The Obama administration has become largely indifferent to Egypt, President Abdel Fattah al-Sisi, and Egypt’s gulf allies. “Looking the other way” has pushed Sisi into the posture of going it alone. That is not good for Egypt or the USA. Obama appears reluctant to even acknowledge the entire regional dimension to the ISIS problem.

In addition to the recent revolutionary upheavals, Egypt struggles with overwhelming endemic problems. A population explosion in the midst of illiteracy with unemployment and staggering poverty drags the country in a downward spiral. Corruption on an epic scale pushes Sisi’s government further toward the edge. They have attempted to distance themselves from Gaza and Hamas by closing the Rafah crossing and destroying more than 2,000 contraband tunnels. Yet, Hamas is out there and a problem.

The times that I have been in Egypt have always impressed on me how almost impossible it would be to govern such a situation. Drinkable water has always been a problem.  The old tourist joke was visit Egypt last on your tour of the Middle East because you will be going home sick. (Once you’ve been down that road, you won’t think it’s a joke).

Today, sporadic terrorist attacks still occur in Egypt (though the media never mentions it). Attempts to defeat Islamic insurgency in the Sinai have not been particularly successful and the situation has reached a stalemate. The problem is that no matter how many jihadist’s crazies they kill, more pour in through the vast mountainous and desert regions between Egypt and Libya (the border is 745 miles long). The recent beheading of 21 Egyptian Coptic Christians underscores the serious problems in that region. Moreover, Egypt along with Saudi Arabia must continue to worry about what is coming out of Iran.

The United States decoupled Iran’s terrorist activities from the negotiations over  their pursuit of nuclear weapons. This procedure may have obtained an agreement but it didn’t slow down the shipment of weapons and missiles coming from Iran. Egypt has to worry about this turn of events.

America remains worried about the things that really count, like—did Tom Brady know about deflated footballs, –can the country survive David Lettermen leaving the late night show, –and what everyone will do for entertainment on Memorial Day weekend.

At the least, the West needs to listen to President Sisi and the needs he expresses. Certainly, there are many problems with military government rule in Egypt – but we’ve already seen the alternative when the Muslim Brotherhood came to power. That reminder should be sobering enough.

Don’t let the lack of coverage by the media keep you from paying attention to the situation in Egypt.


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BLOG 250 April 27, 2015

This past week’s news reports from the Middle East high-lighted the story of hundreds of refugees fleeing from Libya and drowning in the Mediterranean Sea. Cairo predicted such a fate in February when they accused the West of ignoring Egypt’s plight under attack in the Sinai and from Libya by Islamist terrorism. The United States along with Qatar and Turkey were viewed as hostile toward Egypt. Indeed, the Obama Administration’s policy has been as confused as the rioting in the streets of Cairo.

In the middle of increasing terrorism across the whole area, Egypt has now turned to Russia as a new ally. Discussions are currently underway for an arms deal. Under Gamal Abdel Nasser’s administration, the Soviet Union had a major foothold in Egypt but was run out as their own self-serving intentions became obvious. However, the new emergence of an arms deal is not good for the USA and reflects Obama’s retreat from leadership in the area.

Worried because of Egyptian instability caused by the Muslim Brotherhood and the rampant reaction of their military, the USA has been wary of what might come next and has been cautious. Still, Egypt needs America and America needs Egypt. It’s time to rethink support for Egypt. Their having to go it alone will only lead to bitterness within Egyptian leadership.

The Egyptian military has been moving swiftly through the courts to stabilize the country and make it clear that conflict will not be tolerated. The Muslim Brotherhood has virtually been wiped out except for those who have gone underground. Court dockets are full with President Sisi standing in the backroom making sure all decisions favor the state. A death penalty was recently executed on an Islamist supporter of ousted President Morsi. The man was convicted of murder during the political violence following the military take-over in 2013 when teenagers were thrown from the rooftop of a water tower. The death penalty has been carried out at least nine times since Sisi gained control.

On Saturday, April 12, the Egyptian court sentenced an American to life imprisonment for supporting the Islamist protest against the ouster of Morsi. Mohamed Soltan was sentenced along with 35 other defendants for the same provocation. Another dozen persons were sentenced to death. Even journalists have received prison terms for stories the state claimed to be false but the truth actually put the current administration in a bad light. The world knows that any country that jails journalists is on a slippery slope.

These sweeping penalties have received denunciation from groups within Egypt and milder rebukes from Western diplomats. However, the sentences reflect how seriously the Egyptian power structure views any interruptions of everyday and governmental life.

It appears that the pendulum that swung to the far left with Morsi and then to the far right with Sisi still needs to find balance. In the mean time, a religious war rages across Egypt’s borders and the ISIS mentality has proven deadly.

While foreign aid embargos from the USA have been lifted, Egypt needs more help from the USA.

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BLOG 229 December 8, 2014

Oh, in case you missed it. The Egyptian judges dropped all charges against former President Hosni Mubark. My, my, who would have thought of such a thing? The only surprise is that the military takeover waited this long to spring him. Mubark was acquitted on all corruption charges. In addition, all charges were dismissed against his sons and a wealthy associate who had profited greatly from Mubark’s 30-year-rule. As noted in the Sunday, November 30 edition of the New York Times, this amounts to rewriting history and closing out the story of the January 25 Egyptian revolution. Of course, human rights activists were outraged.

Now, its time for the ousted Mohamed Morsi to go to court and face the same charges. That’s the way it turns out when your side of the revolution loses. The Egyptian judges know who butters their bread.

On the other side of the Middle East, ISIS is taking it on the chin. Iranian jets hit ISIS militants inside Iraq and the United States was well aware of the situation. It appears that a strange alliance has evolved between the two enemy countries because of the radical brutality of the terrorist who beheaded Americans and terrorized the Iraqis at every turn. Everybody is frightened by the ISIS nut cases.

The foot-dragging resignation of Iraqi prime minister Nouri al-Maliki slowed any Western response to the ISIS invasion. No one wanted to jump into the fighting until a more stable and inclusive situation existed in Iraqi. Maliki’s departure in late August opened the door for air strikes by the allies. Even since bombing campaign began the ISIS advance hit the wall. Over 1,000 airstrikes have taken a forcible toll. One U.S. official described the air attacks as “the end of the beginning.”

In a television interview, Jordan’s King Abdullah offered forcible statements that the rise of terrorist extremism is not a reflection of the Muslim faith, but a battle between good and evil. Abdullah dogmatically condemned Muslim extremist as malevolent. The King’s statements are significant because they are in the context of the Arab world. He is an Arab speaking against Arab terrorists. This has not happened in the past at this high level.

Another recent trend that Arab terrorists violence seems to have created is a growing rejection of controlling society with Shariah law (Islamic Law). Brutality apparently has been causing this phenomenon to mushroom among some young Arabs. Generally, the media describes terrorism recruiting tactics based on assassinations, but this new dimension has received little attention. However, a growing number of young Arabs are calling for the abandonment of Shariah law. This conversation is mainly centered in Egypt and Saudi Arabia but appears to be growing in other countries as well. Will they survive? Hard to say, but it is a movement to watch.

At the least, it is now clear that the violent rhetoric of ISIS does not speak for all Muslims. Perhaps, terrorism is actually backfiring! Let’s hope so.

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BLOG 221 – October 6, 2014

An interesting twist in the Middle East conflict unfolded in late August. The Palestinian Authority (PLO) President Mahmoud Abbas explained that Egypt’s president Abdel Fattah el-Sisi had offered 1,600 square kilometers of land in the Sinai adjacent to Gaza for a Palestinian state. In exchange, the Palestinians would give up the indefensible claim to land in the 1949 armistice settlement. The land offered by Egypt would more than compensate for the area Abbas claims for the Palestinians.  It would end the refugee battle with Israel and peace could follow.

Abbas said no!  He would rather have his people continue to suffer than accept an alternative to destroying Israel.

Sisi is the first Arab leader to seriously act  in a manner that could  solve this festering problem. Generations of Israeli leaders have recognized that the PLO demands are impossible to meet without sacrificing themselves. Sisi has made a bold move to end the conflict.

Far from being altruistic, Sisi is actually acting in Egypt’s interest because he recognizes how dangerous the PLO’s campaign against Israel actually is for the Arabs. With the prospects of a nuclear-armed Iran and the wild uprising of the jihadists as well as the appearance of ISIS, the continuing conflict with Israel is not in their interest. Hamas has already made attacks inside Egypt. Consequently, Sisi’s offer is an attempt to take the matter out of the hands of the Palestinian jihadists.

Egypt’s offer and Abbas’ no exposes the old reality: the only basic interest of the PLO is the destruction of Israel. From this perspective, if the price of the ongoing struggle is the suffering of the Palestinian people – then so be it.  At the same time, Sisi’s offer demonstrates that the endurance of Israel is changing the game. The surrounding countries are recognizing they profit from Israel’s survival more than their demise. In effect, Sisi’s offer called Abbas’s bluff.

The issue that is now on the table is the continuing support of the USA and Europe to stand behind Abbas and push for a negotiated resolution with Israel. It simply isn’t going to happen. The current American administration has hit bottom with Israeli public because of their inability or refusal to recognize the fundamental realities of the Israel- PLO situation. Sisi’s offer is also a challenge to the single-minded endeavors of Secretary of State John Kerry. Unless Washington switches gears, the status quo in the Israel-PLO struggle will only continue. And the PLO and Hamas will continue to lose.

The key factor in bringing resolution? America and Europe must change their positions. Sisi  has an offer on the table.

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