The same day that Israeli-Palestinian peace talks resumed in Jerusalem after a five-year hiatus, Egypt's military followed through with a deadly crackdown on Muslim Brotherhood protesters. The fate of these two initiatives are very much intertwined, as Israel tries to address its long-festering problem with the Palestinians while it can still count on the Egyptian military to help reinforce security from its side.
This round of Israeli-Palestinian peace talks is operating under much less fanfare than negotiations held in the past, with all sides reserving any sign of optimism until tangible results come through. The peace talks already suffer from one major glaring fault — the complete absence of Hamas in the negotiations. A weak Fatah leadership can only speak for its constituency in the West Bank and not the Hamas-controlled Gaza Strip, effectively undermining proposals for a two-state solution.
Israel understands this is a major weakness to the negotiation, but it is pushing ahead anyway for several reasons. First, Israel sees the need to maintain a strong relationship with the United States. As Israel's own vulnerabilities rise across the region, it cannot afford isolation from its main patron by rejecting the talks altogether. But the regional environment is also pushing Israel to adopt a more pragmatic stance toward the negotiations.
Israel knows that a comprehensive peace deal — one in which Palestinian rivals Hamas and Fatah can negotiate in unison and reinforce any security components of a peace deal — is unlikely at this point. However, Israel also sees the risk in delaying the negotiation indefinitely. The political rise of the Muslim Brotherhood in Egypt deeply unnerved Israel. Not only was Israel forced to confront scenarios in which its long-standing peace deal with the biggest and most critical Arab country could come under threat, but it also had to worry about Hamas piggybacking off the Brotherhood's rise to increase its own sphere of influence in the Palestinian Territories, potentially reaching into the West Bank.
Israel was therefore extremely relieved to see the Egyptian military reassert itself against the Muslim Brotherhood and in the Sinai Peninsula, where jihadist activity has been escalating. If Israel can try to negotiate a limited settlement with Fatah at the same time the Egyptian military is bearing down on Hamas in the Sinai Peninsula and cutting off the group's supply lines, there is a small chance that Israel, Fatah and Egypt could corner Hamas into falling in line out of fear of being further sidelined.
But that is a big "if." The Egyptian military will be dealing with more serious security distractions in the coming weeks, as radicalized elements of the Muslim Brotherhood blend with an existing jihadist presence to sustain their challenge against the military regime. Sectarian attacks between Muslims and Coptic Christians are also likely to increase. As this endemic violence continues, the economy will suffer and Egypt's military-backed regime will struggle to provide basic foods and services to the people.
Even though Israel is relieved that the Egyptian military has stepped back in, it also knows that it will be severely overstretched by trying to contain political turmoil in Egypt's biggest cities while also trying to sustain pressure on militants in Sinai. That uncertainty over the military's future in Egypt has direct implications for Israel, as it needs to depend on the Egyptian military to reinforce any security arrangements Israel tries to make with the Palestinians. Time is not on Israel's side in these peace talks, but that urgency is a big part of the reason why they are happening in the first place.