(photo credit: AP Photo/Amr Nabil)
Unlike the Passover story Israelis will soon commemorate, the liberation tale
playing out in Egypt today leaves many Jews conflicted. Witnessing the Egyptian
people cast off their millennial shackles resonates deeply for the descendants
of that country’s Hebrew slaves. Yet the modern-day pharaohs’ more recent
attempts to destroy the Jews have put security ahead of idealism as Israel’s
highest priority. With the hard-won peace treaty now thrown into doubt, this
tension seems difficult to reconcile.
Although the military has offered
assurances that the country will respect the treaty, the army’s voice in a
democratic Egypt may not be the only one that counts. Unfortunately, the sounds
coming from erstwhile civilian leaders are not reassuring.
Muslim Brotherhood figures to condemn the treaty is worrying, but to be
More alarming is that leading liberal lights are echoing their
refrain. Ayman Nour, head of the secular Ghad Party, recently declared the peace
treaty “over”; at the least, he said, it must be renegotiated.
ElBaradei, far from proclaiming the treaty “rock solid,” as has been reported,
in fact pronounced its vitality dependent on progress with the Palestinians.
Such statements must give pause to even the most optimistic
THAT THE treaty is the linchpin of Israeli security needs
little elaboration. Having to deal with a remilitarized Sinai would consume
precious military resources, and embolden Hamas and Hezbollah and deflate
deterrence. So the treaty’s abrogation need not mean war to be
The treaty also serves Egypt’s interests. Few Egyptians have
an interest in military posturing over domestic investment. Fewer still hunger
for another round of conflict. The peace also lets Egypt sell $2 billion worth
of gas to Israel each year – the same amount it receives in aid from the
The bravery and sacrifice of the Egyptian people these past few weeks
was intended to better their future, not pick at their scars. So what drives
supposedly pragmatic leaders to question this mutually beneficial arrangement?
Resentment over the plight of the Palestinians accounts for much of it, to be
sure, as does the posturing to be expected of any politician. But also telling
is the shattering humiliation that Camp David represents to so many. For the
fourth time in as many decades Israel had defeated Egypt in war. It then
occupied and settled the Sinai, before withdrawing from a position of strength.
Because the treaty prohibits Egypt from stationing troops almost anywhere in the
Sinai, it still cannot exercise full sovereignty over its entire territory.
After the indignity of colonialism, dictatorship and defeat, many Egyptians want
a clean slate.
The legitimacy of this position notwithstanding, Israel
knows that many areas of concern lie outside the treaty’s scope. It still needs
Egyptian cooperation to interdict arms to Hamas, hold back floods of refugees,
allow its warships to transit the Suez Canal (commercial ships are protected
under the treaty) and sell Israel natural gas. None of these are guaranteed by
Camp David. If anti-Israeli sentiment is so high that the Nours and ElBaradeis
are already indulging in such talk, something may have to give.
question Israel might soon face is whether the provisions of the treaty Egypt
could ask to renegotiate are worth the costs that Egypt might seek to
Some concessions are not unthinkable. Twice in the
past month, Israel has approved more than 800 Egyptian soldiers in Sinai to
bolster security after attacks on police stations and a pipeline. And in the
past few years, it has allowed Egyptian police along the Gaza border to
intercept weapons destined for Hamas.
If Egypt remains reasonable, Israel
could find that revisiting Camp David would mean little more than formalizing
facts on the ground, and would allow for a benign, if somewhat expanded,
military presence. It might even open the door to a warmer
Of course, the Egyptians calling for Camp David’s revision
or elimination are not doing so to further Israeli interests. Israel may have to
be prepared to make other concessions – for example, allowing purely civilian
articles into Gaza in exchange for a commitment to police the entry of arms. And
any arrangement will be difficult to sustain in Egypt without real progress on
peace with the Palestinians. On this score, ElBaradei was merely expressing a
EVEN WITH some maneuvering room, Israel should be extremely wary.
Simply agreeing to renegotiation might fuel nationalistic tendencies that
demagogues could exploit, and it may be hard for any Egyptian negotiator to stop
short of maximalist demands. Still, if a new regime insists on it, and threatens
other vital interests, Israel may do well to consider its
Welcome or not, the new era will present both pitfalls and
opportunities. Israeli diplomacy will have to be flexible and creative to ensure
that when its neighbors break their age-old chains and overthrow their
overseers, it is not at its expense as well. In this light, however inopportune,
Israel may decide that the cornerstone of its security must be resurfaced
without being removed.The writer is a fellow with the Truman National
Security Project, and an international attorney in Washington, DC.