The Egyptian-Israeli peace treaty: To change or not to change

Abdel-Moneim Said , Wednesday 10 Oct 2012

Since the January 25 Revolution, Egyptian politicians have pondered what to do about the Egyptian-Israeli peace treaty - is now the time to be making changes?

Some forces who participated in the revolution object to the Egyptian-Israeli peace treaty, although many add that their objection does not mean going to war. They of course realise that war, like love, must be between two sides and decisions are not taken unilaterally. Also, that the other party will decide whether it is in their interest to live with a no-war no-peace status once again, or go to war before Egypt regains its strength and the revolution succeeds in its development process, making it the “strong Egypt” Abdel-Moneim Abul-Futouh talked about.

That is what happened to Egypt after the Czech arms deals, and Israel participated in the tripartite aggression against Egypt in 1956 to stifle Egypt’s military might before it could progress it.

Some of revolutionaries do not reject the treaty in its entirety but want to amend it so Egypt can regain complete sovereignty over Sinai. This would mean revising the security protocol appendix which divides Sinai into areas of limited arms in zones A, B and C and a corresponding Zone D in Israel. This is closely linked to a comprehensive monitoring system of troop movements by multinational forces present in Sinai.

The aim was to create a security system that prevents both Egypt and Israel from performing a strategic surprise against the other, as Israel had done in 1967 and Egypt against Israel in 1973. The real surprise for both sides came from a third party, the Islamist jihadists, who began during Mubarak’s regime to carry out terrorist attacks in Sinai as well as breaching its border with Gaza through tunnels.

After the Egyptian Revolution, jihadists began attacking military and civilian targets, and then used Sinai to attack Israel.

This was not the image in the minds of those who signed the peace treaty and the security protocols, but this is the direct outcome of the military vacuum that was manipulated by other forces to directly threaten the security of both sides on a daily basis. There are ongoing battles with the Egyptian army which took a strategic decision to stamp out terrorist forces and close tunnels and single-handedly control decisions of war and peace with Israel.

Meanwhile, the Israeli army also battled the same forces which destabilised Sinai and is unacceptable for Egypt, because a precious part of its territories is under a dual threat. First, the threat of force against Egyptian security troops; second, the possibility of Israel giving chase to jihadists into Egyptian territories which threatens Egypt’s security and puts Egyptian territories at risk of being occupied once again. This would mean that Egypt has no other choice but to go to war with Israel once again.

This is not all happening in a vacuum. Some domestic revolutionary forces want to renounce the peace with Israel, and while they do not discuss the future of development under such a scenario the natural conclusion would be that development will be postponed indefinitely. Representing this current in political circles is Mohamed Esmat Seif El-Dawla, who has repeatedly said that revising the peace treaty is only a matter of time.

This angered the Israelis, and President Morsi’s spokesman Yasser Ali quickly responded that the president’s advisers are expressing their personal opinions and Egypt’s position of upholding the peace treaty has not changed.

These contradictory statements in top political circles are the result of contradictions on the ground in Egypt that need to be addressed with determined seriousness, so we can decide our agenda of discussions about Egypt’s national priorities. Today, we want to develop Sinai from corner to corner and for this reason and others we must secure it from corner to corner, whether from a variety of terrorist groups or an attack by Israel.

Achieving these goals is not possible without revising the security protocols of the peace treaty to allow Egyptian troops to enter with necessary forces to end the current threat. The problem here is that Israel, and perhaps even the US, must first agree to these revisions. Thus far, they have done so on a temporary basis because of current conditions.

This is perhaps the first serious national security issue that President Morsi has to deal with and should rely on his well-known trait of prudence. This position cannot be subject to revolutionary bartering or party manouevring. Perhaps the president should form a group of national security and foreign policy officials to manage the issue and negotiate with foreign parties responsible for implementing the security protocols.

One other matter remains, which the president himself raised, which is the relationship between the peace treaty and the Palestinian cause which is an integral part of the Camp David agreement that is linked to Egypt’s peace with Israel and guarantees the Palestinian people are given their legitimate rights.

This is an even more complex issue because so far there has been no specific Egyptian approach in dealing with the issue, and it is unknown if Cairo is willing to exert a special effort to relaunch the peace process after the US elections. Or whether Egypt’s approach is to leave the matter to the key players, the Palestinians and Israelis, to decide.

It is a subject that requires a lot of thought and clear direction, because for seven decades this issue has been a priority for Egypt’s national security.

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