Post-revolutionary Egypt should make a distinction between the peace treaty with Israel on the one hand, and partnership and complicity with it against the Palestinians on the other. We understand the first through necessity but consider the second a disgrace that should be disowned.
When Gaza’s Prime Minister, Ismail Haniyeh, visited Cairo recently he was given a formal reception for the first time. In fact, it has been prohibited for any Egyptian official to meet the likes of Mr. Haniyeh and his colleagues for over thirty years. During that time, the Gaza portfolio was handled by Egyptian security, not the Foreign Ministry.
When Israel and the US committed themselves to a boycott of the Hamas-led government in Gaza, Egypt was obliged to join them. This was despite the fact that those Israelis who opposed the peace treaty, one of whom tore it to pieces in the parliament, were represented in the government.
Egypt was not alone in this; officials from Gaza, or from Hamas and Islamic Jihad, were also denied entry in a number of Arab states. Such visits to attend the conferences of the ruling parties in Tunisia and Morocco recently were also for the first time. Israeli tourists have, of course, been welcome there for decades.
There is a lot of evidence of collusion between Egyptian officials and Israel. Such links were a major source of information about the Arab world for Israeli intelligence, alleged journalist and writer Mohamed Heikal recently. He called for security coordination to cease, live on Egyptian television in May.
The architect of collaboration with Israel was the late General Omar Suleiman, the head of Egyptian intelligence for the past 20 years. Israelis themselves testify to his role in the invasion of Gaza and the siege of the territory.
Since the presidency of Anwar Sadat, who signed the treaty with Israel, Egyptians have been told that the real enemy is Iran, not Israel. They were also sold the notion that Palestinians harbour bad thoughts about Egypt and want to overrun the Sinai Peninsula.
I understand Israeli attempts to impress upon the people of Egypt that they are no longer a problem post-treaty, and that it is Shiite Iran and its own ambitions which is the threat. However, I do not understand why the Egyptian media should play this game when there is no real problem between Cairo and Tehran. This led to Egypt being so much in the anti-Iran camp that in the 1980s it hosted at least two radio stations broadcasting propaganda against the Islamic revolution. As Iran established diplomatic relations around the world, only three countries stayed away: the USA, Israel and Egypt. Even the Gulf States have full diplomatic relations with Iran, which is accused of having designs on their territory, but Egypt stays isolated in this respect despite the lack of any Iranian territorial ambitions on Egyptian soil.
Straining Egypt’s relationship with the Palestinians after the peace treaty is not without irony, as if Camp David turned enemies into friends and brothers into enemies. Israeli groups can visit Egypt and US citizens do not need visas, but for Palestinians to make that short journey across the border at Rafah is agonising and often ends in failure. Only collusion with Israel is responsible for this.
The rumour about Palestinians wanting to expand into Sinai has been spread by Israel. Palestinian researcher Abdul-Qader Yassin has pointed out that the Sinai was under Israeli occupation for twenty years, and if the Palestinians had notions of expansion into Egyptian territory, that period would have been their opportunity to do so, no doubt with Israeli backing. He reminded us that when Palestinians broke through the Rafah border in 2008 and went to Rafah and El-Arish, they did so to meet their immediate needs which were not being met in Gaza due to the siege. Once that objective had been achieved, they all went back across into Gaza.
It is no longer a secret that some of the media and security agencies are involved in this disinformation campaign against the Palestinians and are trying to set them up and create a rift with the people of Egypt. A story was circulated a few weeks ago which claimed that 13 “Hamas terrorists” had infiltrated Egypt to cause mayhem but had been arrested. In fact, they were a group whose stay in Egypt had ended and were on their way back to Gaza when they were picked up and thrown into jail. After 18 days, they were released when it became clear that they had nothing to do with Hamas; some are actually members of Fatah. This raises questions about why the media labelled them as “terrorists” just as the Israeli media do.
This sort of thing is linked to the rumours about Hamas involvement in the revolutionary demonstrations and the killing of some protesters. This was a lie put about by members of the security services to divert attention from the police and their snipers.
There is much evidence of a deliberate effort to sow disunity between Egyptians and Palestinians in order to swing the balance of popularity and acceptance towards Israel.
The Israelis were right to describe ousted president Mubarak as a “strategic treasure”. Under the peace treaty he followed Israel, stood against the resistance, and dealt with the Palestinians with varying degrees of resentment and alienation. Eventually, Mubarak’s Egypt was a helper of Israel rather than the Palestinians. In return, however, the Israelis generally remained arrogant and ignored the peace treaty and all other agreements.
This was most obvious in two matters:
* Since 2002 Israel has built the “security barrier” hurriedly; this has more or less annexed about 25 per cent of the occupied West Bank. It has been quick to implement settlement projects so that the number of settlers in the West Bank, excluding occupied East Jerusalem, is around 343,000; in East Jerusalem there are an additional 200,000 settlers.
According to the Palestinian Strategic Report for 2011, during that year alone there were 3,500 housing units under construction on illegal settlements; 142 colonies and outposts were set up in the West Bank. The report recorded that during that year 200 Palestinian homes were demolished and demolition notices were sent to more than 500 dwellings in the West Bank. The area of land confiscated totalled about 11,000 acres, in addition to the bulldozing, burning and destruction of a further 2,000 acres; more than 20,000 olive and fruit trees were damaged, 50 per cent of which were uprooted or burned completely. All in all, the details paint an ugly picture of settlements and settlers and their Judaisation of Palestine and efforts to erase all traces of the Palestinians on their own land.
* Israel has more or less abandoned the two-state solution which has been used to sedate the Arabs since 1988. It was then that the Palestinian leadership announced its strategic alliance with Israel which meant destroying the idea of a Palestinian state, which still touches the feelings of everyone and is being spoken of in various international forums.
Foreign Policy magazine published in its volume of 12/7/2012 an article by Stephen M. Walt, Professor of International Relations at Harvard University, in which he demonstrated that the dream of a Palestinian state has become elusive. He quoted Akev Eldar, the chief editor of Haaretz newspaper as saying that the two-state solution is at best in intensive care, and is unlikely to come out any day soon. He also quoted more frank words from former Netanyahu aide Michael Freund, who said: “The Green Line [the 1948 Armistice Line, on which the promised Palestinian state is supposed to be established] is dead and buried and no longer has any political or other meaning.”
He added that the Israeli people are in Judea and Samaria (the occupied West Bank) to stay. Professor Walt commented on this by saying that what is happening now in the occupied territory is ethnic cleansing. Instead of the forced expulsion of Palestinians along the lines of what happened in 1948, the policy in place now is to continue to pressure the Palestinians so that it becomes impossible for them to continue living in their own country, and they leave it by choice.
Arab Spring countries, especially Egypt, are almost by default required to pursue a policy towards Israel other than that which was pursued by the regimes that were overthrown. The national dignity they recovered imposes on them a duty to come out of the partnership and any form of complicity with Israel against the Palestinians.
Dr. Mousa Abu Marzouk, the deputy head of the political bureau of Hamas, goes even further. He calls on the Arab Spring states to develop a new way to deal with Israel after the collapse of the political settlement project, which has been acknowledged by the Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas; and after the collapse of the two-state project as recognised by the Israelis. All of this together suggests that the Arab initiative, announced at the Arab Summit in Beirut in 2002, should be withdrawn.
Throw in the downfall of the so-called “moderation axis”, of which the former regime in Cairo was a key player, and the political and social milieu calls for an honest review of the options still open for the Israeli occupation, as the Palestinians and their natural allies seek to extract their rights, restore and preserve their dignity, and correct the mistakes of history.
Fahmi Howeidi is an Egyptian writer. This article is a translation from the Arabic which first appeared on al Jazeera net on 31 July.
The views expressed in this article belong to the author and do not necessarily reflect the editorial policy of Middle East Monitor.