Congress should hint to Mubarak that there are costs to Egyptian bellicosity towards Israel.
Just how do you go about affecting change in Egypt’s belligerent, obstreperous, anti-Israel behavior? What’s the approach for impelling reform in Egyptian foreign policy?
These are some of the questions percolating to the surface nowadays in Washington, a city growing increasingly impatient with the unhelpful role played by Egyptian President Mubarak and Foreign Minister Moussa in Middle East peacemaking.
Despite its almost twenty-year-old peace treaty with Israel – an enduring national interest for Egypt as well as Israel – Cairo has never quite reconciled itself to Israel as a sovereign Jewish presence in the region. It seeks to keep the cake and eat it too: to reap the 1979 accord’s tangible benefits ($2 billion a year from Washington, among others) while acting as leader of the Arab front confronting Israel.
This means that Cairo has done everything possible to prevent the normalization of relations with Israel by any and all Arab states, even before Bibi’s election and now after the Wye accord. For almost three years Mubarak has been blocking the reconvening of the multilateral committees, effectively shutting-down this negotiating track.
Moussa continues to impede Israel’s attempts to be accepted into a regional grouping at the UN; he attempted to get Israel’s observers thrown-out of the August conference of non-aligned countries in Durban; and has been behind the attempt to label settlements as war crimes under the new international convention.
The ever-agitating Moussa – who last visited here in 1994 and made a fuss about visiting Yad Vashem – led an international assault on Israel’s nuclear weapons capacity during the 1995 Non-Proliferation Treaty ratification period – and this, during the height of Oslo! Since then he has spearheaded a shrill attack on Israel’s burgeoning relationship with Turkey, unnecessarily making it out into a big regional threat to the Arabs.
In peace diplomacy, Egypt has been a saboteur, not a constructive middleman. During the Hebron accord talks, Moussa’s then-chief-of-staff Nabil Fahmy sat in the Palestinian backroom attempting to ‘toughen-up’ Palestinian demands, advising Saeb Erakat at the last minute against any mention of ‘reciprocity’ in the agreement. (Just ask US negotiators Indyk and Ross about this).
Then there’s the constant justification or excusing of Palestinian terrorism. Mubarak: “The (late-August) bombings in Tel Aviv are the natural result of the torpedoing by Netanyahu’s Likud government of the peace process… Such explosions will continue as long as the Tel Aviv government adopts a position which is opposed to peace and so long as the land is not returned to its Palestinian owners” (Al-Gomhouriya, 28/8/98).
Along with his de rigueur warnings of “an explosion of violence” unless Israel gives in every step of the way, lately Moussa has taken to justifying a unilateral Palestinian declaration of statehood. “Arafat has no alternative”, he told this paper recently. So much for being helpful in keeping the process on track and the dialogue moving forward.
The icing on the cake is the virulent anti-Semitic and anti-Israel rantings in the Egyptian press, but alas this is not new. Israelis as Nazi stormtroopers, baby-killers or bloodsuckers, Netanyahu as Satan, and fascism as an inherently Jewish trait — are commonplace themes, as is denial of the Holocaust. We’ve all seen the repeated venomous editorial cartoons that in the West would land an artist in jail.
So what to do? Egypt is too large and important a country to write-off as an enemy, and the Egypt-Israel peace, however cold, is a regional cornerstone. Washington does not want to punish Egypt by reducing aid, for fear of destabilizing the Mubarak regime – although the ADL’s Abe Foxman in the past has suggested holding some aid in escrow, pending an improvement in Egyptian behavior.
I say: make Hosni Mubarak sweat. Hint to him that there are costs to Egyptian bellicosity. Provide Egypt with good reason for restraint.
Congress ought to convene hearings, for example, into Egyptian human rights abuses, under the recently-passed Freedom From Religious Persecution Act. The London Daily Telegraph reported in October of renewed persecution of Copts in southern Egypt. To be exact, the paper told of horrific crucifixion rituals, mass rape of teenage girls, torture of children, and so on. Oh, it makes Cairo mad to have these dirty little secrets aired in public!
It’s also time for a Congressional open-air hearing into Egypt’s massive military build-up, especially its incomprehensibly large expenditures on development of a blue-sea navy. Just why is this build-up necessary? Congress indeed might want to consider holding back some of the sophisticated military technology Cairo is seeking.
Then there is the troublesome, malevolent Egyptian role in the peace process, and separately, anti-Semitism in the official press. These are both good topics for investigation, and there are relevant Congressional committees perfectly suited to take up each issue.
Originally published in The Jerusalem Post on December 6, 1998