Despite Egyptian President Mohamed Morsi’s domestic troubles with his
constitution, The New York Times has recently reported improved relations
between Israel and Hamas through Egypt’s mediation. Rocket fire from Gaza into
Israel has declined sharply; Israel has eased the blockade by permitting
increased construction materials into Gaza and extending the zone for
Palestinian fisherman in the Mediterranean Sea.
Morsi could repair his
battered international image after the recent protests in Egypt by enhancing his
role as a responsible arbitrator in the Israeli-Palestinian conflict by
utilizing his unique status as an Islamist leader. In the spirit of former
Egyptian president Anwar Sadat, the most effective way for him to fulfill this
role would be to visit Jerusalem.
During the latest crisis in Gaza, Egypt
served as a mediator between Israel and Hamas. Despite the recent violence in
Gaza and the massive domestic pressure for a cut in ties, Morsi refused to annul
the 1979 peace accords with Israel. Unlike America and other western nations who
have labeled Hamas a terrorist organization and banned dialogue with the group,
Morsi has strong relations with Hamas, allowing him to wield significant
influence over them.
Hamas arose as an offshoot of the Egyptian Muslim
Brotherhood and the connection between the two groups is strong. In contrast to
his predecessor, Morsi has opened the Rafah border allowing goods to enter Gaza
from Egypt. When Morsi sent his prime minister to Gaza during the fighting where
he was photographed holding a dead child at Shifra hospital, Morsi demonstrated
that the days of Egypt acting as a perceived American lackey are
Despite Morsi’s harder line against Israel, his government
facilitated a cease-fire agreement between Israel and Hamas. Egypt showed its
power as an arbitrator.
Nonetheless, the cease-fire is still a temporary
solution. The United Nations General Assembly’s recognition of the State of
Palestine and Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu’s recent announcement of
increased settlement building outside of Jerusalem have brought negotiations
between the two sides to a halt, eroding any sense of mutual trust. Someone
needs to jumpstart the dying peace process.
President Sadat’s 1977 visit
to Jerusalem was key in galvanizing Israeli public opinion behind an eventual
peace deal with Egypt that required withdrawing from the Sinai Peninsula – a
territory acquired by Israel during the 1967 war. Until Sadat’s visit, no Arab
leader had ever visited Israel. By following in Sadat’s footsteps, Morsi could
bring new life to the peace process.
Now would be the perfect time for
Morsi to follow Sadat’s example and visit Israel. With elections in Israel
approaching, polling data shows a heavy conservative leaning, with Netanyahu’s
and former foreign minister Avigdor Liberman’s combined parties having a strong
Many Israelis, after the onslaught of rockets on civilian
populations during the recent Gaza violence, feel insecure and isolated in the
changing Middle East.
A visit by Morsi, a leader from the Muslim
Brotherhood party and one of the most powerful actors in the region, would
dispel those fears. It would also undermine the somewhat anti-peace sentiment of
the Netanyahu government. No longer could Netanyahu claim that the entire world
is unjustifiably against Israel.
If Morsi visited Israel, it would be
essential that he tour Israel’s Holocaust Museum, Yad Vashem, and publicly
acknowledge the crimes of the Holocaust both in English and Arabic. This would
be a stinging rebuke of the ludicrous denial of the Holocaust championed by
Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad and would show a genuine understanding of
Israeli fears necessary for any long-term peace agreement with the
Additionally, it would be important for him to speak in
front of the Knesset showing respect for Israel’s democratic character while
also clarifying his support for a Palestinian state in the West Bank, Gaza and
east Jerusalem. This visit would force the Israeli public to genuinely consider
the Palestinian conflict during the upcoming elections instead of focusing on
domestic socio-economic issues.
With former foreign minister Tzipi
Livni’s campaign currently struggling to articulate the importance of the
two-state solution for the future of Israel, Morsi has the power to change the
entire election dialogue.
If Morsi visited Israel, he would not have to
abandon his support for the Palestinian people. Part of his trip would most
likely include a prayer service at al-Aksa Mosque in east Jerusalem, confirming
to the international community the Muslim connection to east Jerusalem as the
capital of a future Palestinian state.
Furthermore, it is also imperative
that he meets Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas at his compound in
Ramallah. During the latest violence, Hamas gained increasing influence both in
the Palestinian public and across the region. By meeting with Abbas on this
historic visit, Morsi would demonstrate that the only way to solve this deadly
conflict is through negotiations and non-violence. A state visit by Morsi would
significantly increase Abbas’ image during a difficult period.
Morsi has a unique ability to impact the peace process because of his religious background and the historical circumstances that propelled him into power.
Thomas Friedman echoes this point,
explaining that “Morsi could offer Israel peace with the Egyptian
people, and through them, the Muslim world beyond.”
Now is the time for
Morsi to use his unique influence by visiting Jerusalem.Aaron Magid is a
staff writer for
The Jerusalem Review. He has written articles on Middle Eastern
The Forward and
The Jerusalem Post. He has also lived in Morocco,
Israel and the Palestinian territories. You can reach him via twitter
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