The appeal by an Egyptian veteran diplomat to take refuge in Israel in the dispute over the Grand Ethiopian Renaissance Dam (GERD) caused much controversy and was rejected by a number of Egyptian writers and politicians who accused Tel Aviv of supporting Ethiopia in exchange for receiving a share of the water from the Nile River.
In an interview on the TV program “Yahdoth fi Masr” (“Happening in Egypt”), broadcast on the Saudi satellite channel MBC on July 13, Moustafa Feki, director of the Library of Alexandria, called on the parties involved to take refuge. to Israel to resolve the dispute over the GERD, which Ethiopia is building on the Blue Nile, the Nile’s main tributary, amid stalled decades-long negotiations over the dam between Egypt, Sudan and Ethiopia.
Feki said Israel has influence over Ethiopia, Russia and the United States, and can therefore exert some influence on the GERD crisis.
He advised Cairo to resort to unconventional solutions to pressure Ethiopia to reach a binding legal agreement on the GERD’s water management, taking into account Egyptian concerns.
Israel denied party allegations to Ethiopia over the GERD crisis. On July 18 statement issued by the Israeli embassy in Cairo, Tel Aviv refuted its involvement in the dam crisis, claiming it is equidistant from all parties to the crisis.
The embassy confirmed that Israel has enough water to meet its needs. It went on to say that the government and people of Israel are concerned about Egypt’s stability and the security of its citizens.
The African Union (AU)’s continued efforts since June 2020 to negotiate a deal to end the deadlock in the negotiations between Egypt, Ethiopia and Sudan over the GERD have repeatedly failed. The last round of talks was in April in Kinshasa, the capital of the Democratic Republic of Congo. No agreement was reached on restarting negotiations. On the contrary, the parties switched accusations of disruptive conversations.
Since then, hostile diplomatic rhetoric between the three countries has escalated, culminating in a United Nations Security Council meeting on July 8 at the request of Egypt and Sudan. The move to take the matter to the Security Council in an attempt to settle the dispute came amid growing fears of military conflict in an already unstable region.
Days before the Security Council meeting, Ethiopia had already started filling the GERD reservoir for the second year. This unilateral move was condemned by the two downstream countries.
On July 19, Ethiopia announced that it has completed its second year of filling its massive dam and that the plant may start generating power in the coming months.
Egypt and Sudan had pinned their hopes on a Security Council resolution to push for an agreement to resolve the tripartite controversial issues, including an agreement to fill and operate the dam. This did not happen. The permanent members of the Security Council were content to express their support for the AU’s mediation to resolve the disputes between the three countries.
Meanwhile, the Security Council has yet to decide on a draft resolution tabled by Tunisia calling for a binding agreement between the three countries on filling and operating the dam within six months. The draft stipulates that Ethiopia will refrain from continuing to unilaterally fill the GERD. Ethiopia opposes any intervention by the Security Council and sees it as a lack of capacity in this dispute.
Feki chided criticism of the proposal to involve Israel in the GERD crisis, arguing that there is no idealism in politics and that Egypt is paying the price for its extremely idealistic foreign positions.
He also stressed the importance of the AU’s demand for Ethiopia to stop unilateral measures and negotiate an agreement within six months to a year.
Feki noted that the peace agreement signed between Egypt and Israel in 1979 provides that neither side will act hostile to the other. Given the specificity of Ethiopian-Israeli relations, he believed Egypt expected Israel to understand its righteous demands in the waters of the Nile.
In addition, he called for exploitation of the peace deal, which Egypt has yet to tap, to serve the just Egyptian stance on the Nile water issue. He believes Israel can pressure Ethiopia in light of their strong historical ties.
Observers believe Egypt is under a water blockade from Ethiopia, with Israel acting as a strong supporter by supplying Addis Ababa with equipment, expertise and defensive weapons in an effort to perpetuate pressure on Egypt. However, Israel has always denied supporting Ethiopia at the expense of Egypt.
On 11 July, Egyptian Foreign Minister Sameh Shoukry met his Israeli counterpart Yair Lapid in Brussels. The meeting took place on the sidelines of Shoukry’s visit to the Belgian capital to hold talks with European counterparts on the GERD, after the Security Council meeting.
An Egyptian diplomatic source told Al-Araby Al-Jadeed newspaper that the two ministers were discussing the GERD crisis. The source said Israel could use its strong relations with Ethiopia on the one hand and with the United States and the European Union on the other to convince Ethiopia to consider Egyptian concerns about the GERD. The source noted that in return Egypt would resolve the issue of Israeli prisoners that Cairo mediates between Tel Aviv and the Palestinian Hamas movement.
In May, Cairo managed to negotiate a ceasefire in the Gaza Strip that ended the region’s worst outbreak of violence in years between Israel and the Palestinians.
Cairo also sponsors indirect talks between Hamas and Israel to conclude a prisoner exchange between the two sides, in addition to arranging lengthy ceasefire measures between Israel and Palestinian factions in Gaza.
Tarek Fahmy, a professor of political science at Cairo University and director of the Israel-Palestinian Studies Unit at the National Center for Middle East Studies, told Al-Monitor it seems a bit far-fetched to suggest Israeli mediation to resolve the GERD dispute. to solve. “Israel is part of this crisis because of its support for Ethiopia,” he said. “The unrestricted Israeli support to the Ethiopian side through the provision of political and strategic expertise has prompted Addis Ababa to continue its open negotiating approach and abandon any final commitments.”
Egypt and Sudan, meanwhile, want to reach a legally binding agreement on filling and operating the dam, provided it guarantees an effective and binding mechanism for settling future disputes. Ethiopia (an upstream country) is pushing for an agreement with non-binding guidelines.
Ethiopia believes the $5 billion GERD is vital to its economic development and energy conservation. But Egypt considers it a serious threat to its supply of the Nile water, on which it depends almost entirely to meet its freshwater needs. Sudan has also expressed concerns about the safety of the GERD and its impact on its own dams and water stations.
Fahmy said: “Involving Israel in this matter is inconsistent with the facts as Israel is one of the main forces supporting Ethiopia during the construction of the dam. Therefore, it would be delusional to use it or include it in the negotiations at this point.”
He added that expanding the negotiating circle with new parties does not serve the negotiation path, as the matter is now in the hands of the Security Council and the AU. “Involving another party in the negotiations would be a waste of time and worthless,” he said.
Osman Kagan Yucel, a researcher with the Association of Investigations on Africa (AFAM), told Al-Monitor that Egypt knows Israel has the political capacity to resolve the GERD situation. “In light of the close ties between Israel and Ethiopia and the recent rapprochement between Sudan and Israel, Israel could play an efficient role in resolving the GERD conflict,” he said.
But Yucel ruled out Israel playing a role in the conflict. “The new government emerging amid political and economic turmoil in Israel will focus more on domestic affairs.”
He noted, “More importantly, Israel is party to an issue of water distribution in its own region.” Yucel argued that it would rather not interfere with other countries’ water distribution problems or remain silent.