Egypt’s new leader Mohamed Morsi is proving to be a cunning communicator, at
least so far as what he puts across to undiscerning Western ears. He manages to
sound exceedingly moderate and reasonable, while enunciating unreasonable,
indeed radical demands that must be met or else. He in effect says that “it’s my
way or the highway.”
Thus, while seeming to affirm his commitment to the
33-year-old peace with Israel, Morsi at the same time piles up impediments upon
which he now makes that peace contingent.
The inescapable inference is
that if his conditions are not accepted, he would consider himself absolved of
his obligation to keep the peace.
Add to that the fact that his
stipulations are all but impossible to accede to and a whole other picture
emerges than that which is commonly perceived overseas.
Two examples are
particularly disturbing. The first is the strident suggestion from Cairo that it
is essential that the 1979 Camp David peace treaty with Israel be amended. What
Morsi wants is abrogation of the clauses that demilitarize Sinai and prohibit
Egyptian army presence there.
Morsi would rather his foreign audiences
forget that Israel gave up Sinai and that its one tangible gain from its great
concession was the safety of demilitarization that created a sizable buffer
zone. Thus Israel was assured that it could not be surprised by a sudden attack
from Egypt. No military entry into Sinai could go undetected.
departure from this would negate Israel’s most important security
Therefore, what Morsi demands should more than raise a few
eyebrows. Additionally, his pretext doesn’t quite hold water. Morsi insists that
Israel’s refusal to allow unrestricted Egyptian military might in Sinai bars him
from curtailing terrorism and crime in that lawless region.
disingenuous. Morsi cannot put the onus for anti-Israeli terrorism on Israel. In
territories covered by a peace agreement, the danger of deadly attacks should
not exist. It is not what peace partners should expect.
terrorism is not a function of massive military deployment but of good
intelligence and primarily of good intentions to honor obligations. Hence when
Cairo embraces Hamas, which dispatches hit squads into Sinai and colludes with
assorted jihadists there (who are directed from the Gaza Strip), goodwill
appears in short supply.
Heavy armor and artillery in Sinai will not
defeat Beduin gangs but will undermine Israel’s most basic existential
interests. Morsi is not so naïve as to not understand this.
The same goes
for his recent assertion to The New York Times that Egypt will not consider the
peace treaty with Israel honored as long as Israel has not evacuated Judea and
Samaria and squeezed itself back in the 1949 armistice lines. Again Morsi knows
that this endangers Israel, that the creation of a Palestinian state was not
part of Israel’s Camp David undertakings and that he is retroactively putting up
new conditions to a done deal while misleadingly claiming that Israel has not
fulfilled its treaty responsibilities.
In fact, Israel had scrupulously
lived up to its every last commitment – to the point of uprooting communities,
relinquishing energy sources that it discovered and developed, endangering its
shipping and opting for reversible security arrangements. Not only that. Years
after the 1982 evacuation of Sinai, Israel further ceded the last contested
sliver at Taba over which it had quite a solid claim.
To come after all
that and impute ill-will and duplicity to Israel is not to send a hopeful
message of the sort that Morsi pretends to be transmitting to all and
It is a shame that the Times interview asked such softball
questions and did not press Morsi harder on some of his more unsettling
pronouncements. As is, it is hard for Israelis to avoid the fear that things are
going the wrong way in Cairo, that it is compounding obstructions to any future
Israeli insistence on enforcing the mutually binding treaty, that it plans to
make Israel hostage to Palestinian intransigent whims or else forfeit the peace
Israel had already paid for with Egypt. None of this bodes well.