Protesting in Egypt.
(photo credit: Reuters)
US Secretary of State John Kerry’s latest attempt to get Israelis and
Palestinians back to the negotiating table has been forgotten in the huge
protests that are sweeping Egypt, and the concerns of how instability in the
most populous Arab country could affect its neighbors.
In Israel, the
first concern is for the Egyptian-Israeli peace treaty, signed in 1979, and
which many Israeli officials consider one of the country’s most important
strategic assets. When current president Mohammed Morsi took power a year ago
there were calls from his Muslim Brotherhood colleagues to cancel the treaty.
Yet one of his first acts in office was to state that Egypt will respect all
previously signed agreements.
Now, if Morsi is unable to reach a
compromise with the demonstrators by Tuesday, as seems likely, the army could
step in as it did when long-time autocrat Hosni Mubarak resigned in 2011. That
time, the army was in control for more than 18 months.
“The military in
Egypt are not from the Muslim Brotherhood but from Mubarak’s time,” Eli Shaked,
who was Israel’s ambassador to Egypt from 2003 – 2005 told The Media Line. “They
understand the importance of the peace treaty and they will not allow any
civilians to abrogate the treaty.”
However Shaked says Israeli officials
are more concerned that if the chaos in Egypt continues, the army will give up
on efforts to stop weapons smuggling from the Sinai peninsula into Gaza. The
Sinai, which Israel acquired in 1967 from Egypt, and later withdrew from as part
of the peace treaty has long been a center for smuggling and human trafficking.
Shaked says that the Egyptian army is trying hard to keep Sinai safe.
far they are doing a nice job -- clearing the area from terrorist cells,
cleaning out what used to be called Philadelphia road corridor (along the border)
and the tunnels, trying to stop terrorists from infiltrating into Sinai,” Shaked
said. “But the situation is deteriorating and there is some
Some Israeli military officials say the army has not done
enough to crack down in Sinai. Last year, 16 Egyptian soldiers were killed in an
ambush in Sinai, and Israeli officials say Hamas in Gaza has now acquired the
latest in weapons technology which came through the tunnels between Sinai and
Hamas, which has controlled Gaza since 2007, is even more concerned
by developments in Egypt than Israel is. Hamas is an offshoot of Morsi’s Muslim
Brotherhood, and ties between the two countries since Morsi’s election have been
close. If Morsi is forced to abdicate, Egypt’s support for Hamas could
“What’s happening is really bad news for Islamists all over the
Arab world, not only Hamas in Gaza,” Basem Ezbidi, a professor of political
science at BirZeit University told The Media Line. “Islamists are realizing that
it’s easier to criticize than to get your hands dirty with actually
However, he says, there could be some good news for
Palestinians. Hamas and Fatah have been unable to move toward “national
reconciliation” which would pave the way for long-overdue elections in the West
Bank and Gaza. Palestinians remain divided as Hamas controls Gaza, and the more
moderate Fatah reigns over the West Bank. Polls show the vast majority of
Palestinians want the two sides to end their feud, which began when Hamas used
force to take over Gaza in 2007.
Israel has also used the internal
divisions within the Palestinians as a reason not to return to the negotiating
table. How can Israel even consider withdrawing from any part of land acquired
in 1967 if the Palestinians cannot guarantee that their entire public would
accept any peace deal.
Now, if Hamas is weakened, Ezbidi says, it could
push it toward national reconciliation.
“Hamas is realizing it’s about
time to get back to internal Palestinian scene and deal with questions of
national unity by really showing willingness and realistic conditions,” he said.
“But at the same time if Palestinian leader Mahmoud Abbas sees that happening he
will raise his conditions and terms.”
Ezbidi says most Palestinians are
apathetic and have lost any hope in a peace deal with Israel.
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