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FM downplays Egypt's decision to cancel gas deal
By JPOST.COM STAFF
04/23/2012
"We're following what's happening in Egypt and hope that everything will work out for the best," Liberman says.
 
Foreign Minister Avigdor Liberman downplayed on Monday Egypt's decision to terminate a long-term natural gas deal with Israel, saying that he hoped the dispute could be solved like any business dispute, Israel Radio reported.

Israel has every desire to uphold the peace accords with Egypt, the foreign minister said. Egyptians share that interest, he added.

"We're following what's happening in Egypt and hope that everything will work out for the best," Liberman told Israel Radio.

Labor MK Isaac Herzog echoed Liberman's sentiments on Monday, saying "There is no interest in a deterioration from either side."

"This is not a positive development, but I think we should not make more of this than it is... On a policy level, it is clear to all of us, both to Israel and to Egypt, to continue to maintain the peace treaty," he said.

On Sunday Egypt announced that it was terminating the gas deal inked in June, 2005. Egyptian officials said Cairo's decision to halt the flow of gas through the pipeline was not rooted in political disagreements. Rather, the issue was part of a commercial dispute between the companies and Egyptian government corporations that is presently being adjudicated abroad.

An expert on the issue speaking with Israel Radio said that the current gas dispute would not likely send gas prices soaring. Terrorists have bombed the pipeline that runs natural gas from Egypt to Israel at least 14 times this past year. Since January 2011, when a popular uprising began that pushed former president Hosni Mubarak out of power in February, the gas from Egypt to Israel has flowed inconsistently, the expert said, so the current disruption does not pose a major issue.

Still, electricity prices in Israel have gone up 20 percent since attacks on the pipeline began, and Israeli officials have warned of summer blackouts in light of the current disruption.

And while the foreign minister downplayed the political gravity of the dispute, former Israeli envoy to Egypt Zvi Mazel told Israel Radio that the gas deal was integral to the Egyptian-Israeli peace.

The 1979 Egypt-Israel peace treaty stipulates that normal economic relations between the two countries will include the normal commercial sale of oil, later changed to natural gas, from Egypt to Israel.

Anti-Israeli attitudes have mushroomed in Egypt since Mubarak's ouster, who ruled Egypt for more than three decades. Many Egyptians view the gas deal Cairo signed with Jerusalem as a symbol of the Mubarak regime's corruption, especially since the gas was sold at below-market prices.

The Muslim Brotherhood and Islamist parties together won the majority of seats in Egypt's newly elected parliament, and for these groups anti-Israel attitudes are the norm, Mazel said. Many Egyptian lawmakers and presidential candidates, vying for Egypt's top spot in elections slated for May 23 and 24, have said they would seek to amend the Egyptian-Israeli peace accords following elections.

If Egypt's military rulers - who took charge following the fall of the Mubarak regime - do not work at dispelling such anti-Israeli beliefs, than Egypt's relationship with Israel could quickly sour, he added.

Oren Kessler and Herb Keinon contributed to this report
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