Comment: Think like an Egyptian

Egypt is not an oil power. This is the reason it cannot impose many things on the Palestinians.

olmert mubarak egypt 298 (photo credit: AP [file])
olmert mubarak egypt 298
(photo credit: AP [file])
Egypt has always been involved with the conflict in Israel. They share borders both with Israel and with the Palestinians so they have a double interest. Unfortunately, their involvement in the negotiations between Israel and the Palestinians has not helped in resolving the ongoing conflict. We need to ask ourselves: Why? Why can't Egypt impose its interests on the Palestinians and push them towards a settlement? Firstly, Egypt is still the most important Arab country but it is not a strong country in terms of economics; Egypt is not an oil power. Its power comes from its geography and its history. This is the reason Egypt cannot impose many things on the Palestinians. Today we face a different Arab world where the radical forces have become stronger and they do not bend to normal political pressures. These radical entities carry out their objectives through different means. Egypt, on the other hand, uses a dead form of diplomacy form the 1960s and 70s, much like the United States uses with the Arab world. Omar Suleiman, the Egyptian intelligence chief, is a moderate man, a man of peace, who is trying to make something happen, but it won't work. The negotiations for the return of Cpl. Gilad Shalit have been going on for five months and still nothing has happened. It shows the limits of the Egyptian and even the Israeli strategy, and the power of fanaticism on the other side. If you take a moment to look, you see Hamas is playing with Israel and also Egypt. We in Israel don't identify the goals of Hamas, which is to put Israel off balance. The release of Palestinian prisoners is not Hamas's aim but another tactic that they'll use for as long as possible in order to cause internal problems for Israel. With this going on, we can see clearly that Egypt cannot do much. Now Egypt has no choice but to be involved because of their agreement on the Philadelphi Corridor. The smuggling through tunnels going into Gaza from Egypt is the most important issue, but it presents a political quagmire for them. The only way to stop such smugglings is to chase after and kill the terrorists. But if Egypt does this, they'll be seen by the media as Arabs who are killing Palestinians; they'll be compared to Israelis. In the end Egypt will do the minimum to stop the smuggling problem. It seems Israel didn't understand in the first place that we shouldn't have abandoned the corridor. And now we are letting Egypt defend us. Egypt's problem with the Muslim Brotherhood in their country correlates directly to their problem with Hamas. During the recent elections for parliament in Egypt, the Muslim Brotherhood's candidates won easily. The secular Arab governments have fizzled and now the radical Muslims are working through preaching and charities to become the alternative force to the ruling groups. If this happens in Egypt, it is the worst situation possible. The Shalit situation is an example of how negotiations play out. The Egyptians are trying to form the basics for the exchange agreements by speaking to the Palestinians and to Israel and then saying if they can do anything. The cease-fire with Hamas is a weapon. Israel now has the backing of the Americans and the EU, but if Hamas stops major hostilities, the Europeans will be easily convinced to start giving aid to them. The cease-fire is a trap that Hamas will use to gain political power and more weapons. Those weapons will be used to break the siege on it and Israel will be the loser in the end. Egypt does not have much to gain from all these dealings because they want to see Israel strong, so it will stop Hamas. The Egyptians want an orderly Gaza to guarantee stability in the region. They are as afraid of terrorists as we are, but they also do not know how to deal with people who don't care about human lives. In the end, these negotiations will put Israel off balance. Hamas will be the winners. The danger is all around us. All we can do is change the way we think about the problems and then solve it. Zvi Mazel is a former ambassador to Egypt. Ori Raphael contributed to this report.