When the lid is afraid of the pot
By Amir Oren
The year 2007 does not only include the 40th anniversary of the Six-Day War; it also contains the 30th anniversary of Anwar Sadat's visit to Jerusalem. Israel's most glorious military achievement, the defeat of three states and the occupation of major segments of their territory, is set against an even greater diplomatic achievement, breaking through the wall of Arab hostility. In both cases, the enthusiasm gradually turned to disappointment and the promise held out by the short-term results never came to fruition.
The view that Egypt is a moderate, peace-seeking country is an optical illusion. Cairo, which purchased its ticket to Washington through Jerusalem, is once again not thrilled to be part of the camp affiliated with the Americans. The Egyptian people, who are not eager to get involved directly in a war, are instead encouraging war from the sidelines.
Israel's awakening from the illusion of Egyptian influence over the Palestinians has been taking place for seven straight years, from the Camp David summit in 2000 to the anarchy on the Egypt-Gaza border under Hamas rule. Even during its 19 years of military rule over the Gaza Strip, Egypt was more concerned about Palestine than the Palestinians. Contrary to the Hashemite Kingdom, which annexed the West Bank and undertook a process of "Jordanizing" the Palestinians, Egypt avoided adding the refugees from Jaffa and the residents of Khan Yunis to its own tens of millions of poor. In the prisoner exchange that followed the Six-Day War, the Israel Defense Forces released thousands of soldiers who served in the Palestinian brigades of the Egyptian army and sought to transfer them to the western bank of the Suez Canal. But Egypt refused to accept the released Palestinians and demanded that they be returned to the Gaza Strip.
The promising idea of an exchange of territory involving Sinai, the Negev, Gaza and the West Bank might have had a chance of succeeding in the Sadat era, or at the height of the Oslo process, but has since fizzled. Egypt will not contribute a grain of sand, a drop of sweat, or a drop of blood in order to further peace. In the best-case scenario, it will continue treading water in the current impasse. The more realistic scenario is that after Hosni Mubarak, the repressed hostility will become open and active.
Ironically, the reason for this is democracy - not the American model (since efforts to instill that in Cairo failed exactly as they did in Damascus, Riyadh and every other Arab capital), but the popular version found in political cultures where an authoritarian and rigid regime refuses to relinquish its exclusivity and privileges, but also will not challenge public opinion unnecessarily. That the regime, or parts of it, has come to terms with Israel is a diplomatic fact that the Egyptian public cannot erase. However, this public has great power to keep the relationship cool, limited to air-conditioned rooms where diplomats meet.
Opinion polls show that Egypt - the largest Arab state, with the most advanced and powerful military - is also the most hostile to Israel, the United States and the West. This is not a matter of hairsplitting interpretation or passing trends: The data are unequivocal, and as frightening as a storm of religious fanaticism and prejudice.
Last month, the American House of Representatives Committee on Foreign Affairs received the results of an international survey conducted by the University of Maryland. The survey examined public opinion in four Muslim countries: Morocco, Egypt, Indonesia and Pakistan. On every questions, Egypt led - in opposing an American presence in the Middle East, in supporting attacks against it (more than 93 percent), and in accusing the U.S. of aggression against Islam in its entirety, as opposed to just the fight against Al-Qaida, the Taliban and Saddam Hussein. Even those who expressed reservations about Al-Qaida's activities, particularly its targeting of civilians, supported the audacity of global jihad in confronting America and raising the flag of protecting "Muslim honor." Many doubt the American version of what happened on 9/11 and attribute what they saw with their own eyes, and what was described in tapes by Osama Bin Laden and his aides, to Hollywood special effects. Israel, of course, is derided as a collaborator and a protectorate.
The pot boiling under the regime is threatening - if it boils over - to throw the lid off, and with it, also the peace with Israel. The resulting security tensions will not immediately escalate or lead to a new war, a sixth war, between the two countries. But there will be no deeper, broader peace than the one that currently reigns on our southwestern border
I've long held the position that the 'Cold Peace' with Egypt would eventually lead to war. It just made sense. The Egyptian army has continually grown in numbers and quality thanks to Uncle Sam's wallet, which eagerly opened after the Cold Peace began. And their massive yearly military exercises in the Sinai? I highly doubt they're done because of a potential confrontation with Libya or Sudan.
Another worry is excellently summarized in this article, which also goes into great depth at the failure of this peace treaty to further a better relationship between the two nations:
The Israeli academic personality probably most friendly to Egypt, indeed a frequent apologist for Egyptian attitudes, wrote bluntly:
"Today the most dangerous impediment to relations between the two peoples is not, in my view, the absence of implementation of normalisation, as detailed in paragraph three of the Peace Treaty, nor in the absence of an Egyptian Ambassador in Israel, but in the unbridled incitement against Israel in the Egyptian press. "
He goes on: "Many journalists regard it as their national duty to serve as watch-dogs who protect Egyptian duty from any positive contact with Israelis. They denounce any connection in the cultural sphere as a cultural attack by Israel on the Egyptian personality. and any economic activity as domination of the Egyptian economy. Negative news from Israel is inflated to monstrous proportions, while positive moves are not published at all. Even a newspaper like El Ahram(1) permits itself to publish, for example, an article which tells readers that the Israeli soldiers in Lebanon operate ovens of "termination which they learnt to build from Nazis."(2)
1. Egypt's leading daily
2. Professor Shimon Shamir, (the head, until 1984, of the Israeli Cultural Institute in Cairo) in Yediot Ahronot 29 March, 1985.
Many will argue that a cold peace with Egypt is better than what we were enduring between the end of the Yom Kippur war and Anwar Sadat's famous visit to Jerusalem. However, looking at the radicalization of the country and the obvious advantages we've forfeited with this peace treaty, one cannot stop but be concerned about Israel and a potential confrontation with Egypt.
(Another mistake of this peace treaty was the destruction of the Jewish settlements in the Sinai. Here, for the first time, Jews willingly destroyed their settlements in an attempt to find a lasting, real peace. It set a dangerous precedent that is haunting us till this day. Its no wonder that Menachem Begin, according to one of his closest friends, spent the rest of his life regretting the treaty)