A peace of sorts

Hussein Haridy
Wednesday 6 Apr 2022

The Peace Treaty signed between Egypt and Israel in March 1979 remains an unfulfilled promise in the absence of a political resolution to the Palestinian question in line with UN resolutions.

Last month marked the 43rd anniversary of the Peace Treaty between Egypt and Israel that was signed at the White House on 26 March 1979. The treaty laid the basis for a political settlement of the Arab-Israeli conflict, including the Palestinian question according to the United Nations.

A lot of water has passed under the bridge since then, and the peace that was intended to end all wars in the Middle East region has proved elusive. Not only that, but Israel has lived under extreme-right governments from Menachem Begin to Naftali Bennett, and Benjamin Netanyahu substituted the promise of region-wide peace with the imagined Iranian threat to the existence of the state of Israel. 

The Israelis summarised this threat in that of Iran acquiring a nuclear bomb. Prior to the signing of the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA) in 2015, Israel, under the premiership of Netanyahu that spanned almost two decades, kept warning the world that it would act alone if need be to destroy Iranian nuclear facilities that could produce atomic weapons.

The Israelis have used the imagined Iranian threat to achieve two objectives. The first is to push back against international and US efforts to negotiate a resolution of the Palestinian question with the Palestinian Authority (PA). The second stems from an Israeli strategy to remain the only Middle Eastern power that possesses nuclear arms and the long-range ballistic missiles that can carry those weapons. 

Needless to say, the Israelis have never said that their country does possess such weapons of mass destruction, and they prefer to follow what they call “strategic ambiguity” in this regard. They have insisted on Israeli security, absolute security, in the face of all peace efforts in the Middle East.

Israel was aided significantly in this context by the former US Trump administration that went along with Israel to the extent that it decided to pull out of the Iranian nuclear deal on the pretext that this would help Iran to manufacture a nuclear weapon. This was the Israeli argument from day one. The Trump administration then took drastic steps under its strategy of “maximum pressure on Iran” to force Tehran to acquiesce to US demands concerning an altered deal with new provisions that would satisfy the Israelis. 

The results of this strategy have been contrary to expectations. Today Iran, according to US, European, and Israeli officials and experts is nearer the point of producing a nuclear weapon than it had been prior to the US withdrawal from the JCPOA. 

The Israelis with US backing provided by the Trump administration signed a series of peace accords with some Arab countries, which they dubbed the “Abraham Accords.” The intention was to expand these Accords to include other Arab countries aside from the UAE, Bahrain, Sudan, and Morocco, the four Arab nations that have signed the accords with Israel.

Surprisingly enough, the accords, unlike the Egyptian-Israeli Peace Treaty, are not linked to the peaceful resolution of the Palestinian question (the two-state solution). This is why we should not consider the Abraham Accords and the Peace Treaty between Egypt and Israel as one, at least from a historical and political point of view.

On 27 March, Israel hosted a regional meeting on the level of foreign ministers that it surprisingly called the “Negev Summit”. This was attended by the US secretary of state and the foreign ministers of Egypt, the UAE, Bahrain, and Morocco. Jordan, the second Arab state to sign a peace treaty with Israel in October 1994, was conspicuous by its absence.

The Israelis wanted the meeting to look like the launch of a regional coalition against “the common enemy” – you guessed it, this is Iran. Of course, Israeli senior officials and commentators were effusive in describing the ministerial meeting, calling it “unprecedented” and “historic.” 

Four Arab foreign ministers had gathered in Israel with their US and Israeli counterparts to talk about “common challenges” and “threats” – primarily meaning Iran with “terrorism” as a footnote. It goes without saying that the Arab ministers at the meeting do not share the same definition of “terrorism” as the Israelis and Americans. For the Arab side, a Palestinian defending his plot of land or his house that is threatened with demolition by Israeli earthmoving equipment is not a “terrorist.”

Besides, the Israelis have not shown a markedly keen interest in fighting the terrorist groups that have been threatening the Arab countries over the past four decades.

Another fault line is the perception on their part of what the Israelis call an “existential threat” posed by Iran to Israel. The four Arab countries may conclude that Iranian policies in the region are challenging, but I guess they would prefer to discuss them with the Iranian themselves instead of being considered by Tehran as members of a regional alliance specifically targeting Iran.

Probably the four countries, like all the Arab countries, are against Iran becoming a nuclear power. However, they would prefer diplomacy and negotiations with Iran to preclude the possibility of its becoming a nuclear power. In other words, most of them would oppose the use of force by Israel against Iran because they are afraid that the cost to be paid would be quite high when it comes to regional security and stability.

As far as Egypt is concerned, I doubt that it would be interested in membership of a regional alliance targeting Tehran. Nor would it give its support, tacit or public, to an Israeli attack on Iran.

Given the divergent aims and core perceptions of the participating countries on the Arab side at the Negev meeting, this ministerial meeting was not the proper venue for celebrating the 43rd anniversary of the Peace Treaty that Egypt signed with Israel in 1979. It only served the foreign-policy objectives of Israel and to a lesser degree the US strategy of deepening relations between the signatories of the Abraham Accords and expanding them in future to include other Arab countries.

In the absence of a peaceful and political resolution to the Palestinian question in line with UN resolutions. I am afraid that the peace between Egypt and Israel will remain an unfulfilled promise of peace.

* The writer is former assistant foreign minister.

* A version of this article appears in print in the 7 April, 2022 edition of Al-Ahram Weekly.

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