Wednesday, February 25, 2009

EGYPT & ISRAEL

Dear All,

"Going Fishing" -- hope to be back by the middle of next week.

Elliot




Countdown to 30

In a month's time, Egypt and Israel will mark 30 years since the signing of our peace treaty. Israel staged a phased withdrawal from the Sinai following the 1979 accord, giving up strategic depth, vital airspace, military bases, newly discovered oil fields and control of the Straits of Tiran - the gateway to Eilat. From the Israeli perspective, Israel gave - Egypt took. And peace was established.

But Egypt paid a stiff price for being the first Arab country to make peace with Israel. It was ostracized by the Arab world and vilified by Iran's newly installed Muslim fanatics. Anwar Sadat, assassinated in October 1981 by al-Qaida's precursors, didn't live to see the final Israeli pullback from Yamit in April 1982.

Israelis never fully appreciated, or perhaps wrongly discounted as lip service, the importance Sadat placed on a resolution of the Palestinian problem, linking it to progress on bilateral relations. "Even if peace between all the confrontation states and Israel were achieved," Sadat told the Knesset, "in the absence of a just solution of the Palestinian problem - never will there be that durable and just peace upon which the entire world insists…"

Sadat vaguely embraced Menachem Begin's proposal of autonomy, but the Palestinians brushed it aside, faithful to the principle of never missing an opportunity to miss an opportunity. They have spared no effort since to undermine Cairo-Jerusalem relations.

Neither Begin nor Sadat set out to construct a cold peace. Perhaps, along with the disappointments on both sides, the weeks leading up to the anniversary could be used to reflect on what has been achieved - against all odds.

THERE IS much that Israelis do not understand about Egyptian policy. We never understood why, in 2000, Hosni Mubarak opposed an international administration for the Temple Mount, warning Yasser Arafat not to "give up sovereignty over Al-Haram al-Sharif."

We never really understood Egypt's lackadaisical attitude to Hamas's weapons smuggling - though by limiting the number of troops permitted along the border, the treaty does complicate Cairo's efforts to secure the Philadelphi Corridor. But even with technical support now from the US and Europe, weapons flow practically unabated.

We do not understand why Egypt is pushing a Gaza cease-fire that would further strengthen Hamas, while leaving Gilad Schalit in its clutches. But Egypt must be equally befuddled by Israel's decision to pummel Gaza for three weeks - even as Cairo explicitly blamed Hamas for instigating the violence - only to declare a unilateral cease-fire that left the Islamists emboldened.

We do not understand why Cairo refuses to allow a genuinely controlled but open border between the Strip and Sinai, stopping guns and bad guys but allowing everything else; or why it opposes port facilities in northern Sinai that could benefit Egyptians and Palestinians alike. In the long run, such a move would foster Palestinian self-determination.

Egypt is again trying to foster reconciliation between Hamas and Fatah. But Palestinian unity predicated on Hamas's maximalist demands hardly salvages what is admittedly a bad situation. Why doesn't Egypt condition its efforts on Hamas meeting the demands of the international community to renounce violence, recognize Israel and abide by agreements signed by the Palestinian leadership?

Israelis can appreciate that Egypt's frosty policy toward our country is influenced by a complex set of foreign and domestic factors. Yet we don't understand why, in international forums, Egypt occasionally leads the charge against Israel; why, at home, state-controlled media sometimes promotes stereotyping of Jews.

When a rudimentary bomb went off in Islamic Cairo on Sunday, killing a French tourist, the reverberations were felt in Jerusalem. We were troubled that some ascribed the attack to "frustration" over Egypt's supposedly ineffective response to "Israel's devastating offensive in Gaza"; and that Iran's condemnation of the bombing "as serving Zionist interests" was taken at face value.

Our criticism notwithstanding, the survivability of the regime the now-octogenarian Hosni Mubarak established is a strategic Israeli interest. Egyptian war games in the Sinai earlier this month drew little comment because Mubarak's men are in command. We were delighted by the release from prison of opposition leader Ayman Nour. Yet we know that democratization absent essential institution-building and the right kind of political socialization is catastrophic.

Preliminary judgment: Thirty years of fraught relations trumps the previous 30 years of bellicosity.

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