Amr Moussa and Israel

Egyptian candidate has said he intends to honor peace treaty with Israel.

moussa cartoon 521 (photo credit: AVI KATZ)
moussa cartoon 521
(photo credit: AVI KATZ)
For the first time in Egypt’s long history, its citizens are about to elect a president in a truly free and secret ballot. Polls show the secular 76-year-old Amr Moussa, widely considered a hard-liner on Israel, as the front-runner, and, all things being equal, he is likely to be elected in a second round run-off against the moderate Islamist Abd al- Mun’im Abu al-Futuh.
The main focus of the election has been domestic: Moussa is campaigning on promises of equality, based on civil rather than religious criteria, and plans to rehabilitate the economy and restore law and order. But he is well aware of the direct connection between his civic and economic goals and foreign policy.
Indeed, he intends to make full use of his international reputation, acquired in the 20 years he served as Egypt’s foreign minister and Arab League Secretary General, to extricate Egypt from the quagmire in which it has been stuck ever since Hosni Mubarak’s ouster early last year.
Compared to his rivals in the presidential race, Moussa presents clear positions on foreign affairs and defense, especially with regard to Egyptian policy towards Israel. In early May, the influential Al-Masry Al-Youm daily asked each of the candidates the same question: “Will you reconsider the peace agreement with Israel?”
Moussa’s answer showed that he sees the 1979 peace treaty as a vital national interest and the cornerstone of Egypt’s relations with the US and the West. He declared that under his leadership Egypt would honor its international commitments, “including the peace treaty with Israel, as long as the other party honors them.”
While some of the other candidates, including Abu al-Futuh, have described Israel as “an enemy” and the peace treaty as a millstone around Egypt’s neck, Moussa sees Israel as a rival whose aggressive policies need to be challenged in regional and international forums.
True, Moussa favors amending the military appendix to the peace treaty, which outlines the conditions for the demilitarization in the Sinai Peninsula. He sees the restrictions on troop numbers as an infringement of Egyptian sovereignty as well as a source of the continuing chaos in Sinai. But he wants to change things through agreement with Israel and not by a unilateral step that could undermine the entire peace edifice and bring the two countries to the brink of renewed confrontation.
Moussa, however, does advocate a firm policy towards Israel on two key issues: the Israeli-Palestinian conflict and Israel’s nuclear capability. He sees both as threats to Egypt’s national security.
Moreover, in his view, the 1978 Camp David Agreement has lost its relevance as a framework for a comprehensive Israeli-Arab peace deal. Instead, he proposes working for an agreement based on the 2002 Arab Peace Initiative. He supports practical steps towards a two-state solution and staunchly opposes simply “managing” the conflict. He also believes it is Egypt’s duty to provide political and economic aid to the Palestinian people in its struggle to establish “an independent, sovereign state on the basis of the June 4, 1967 borders, with its capital in East Jerusalem.”
For many Israelis, Moussa’s positions do not bode well. But although they present a challenge to current Israeli policy, they do offer a significant opening to those Israelis who favor a solution of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict along the lines of the Arab Peace Initiative.
It is important to emphasize that Moussa’s positions reflect a wide consensus in Egypt. It is simplistic to dismiss them as some sort of personal quirk. And it will be interesting to see whether the new coalition in Israel is able turn Moussa’s challenge into a new opportunity.