The steel wall that Egypt intends to build on its borders with besieged Gaza illustrates the double bind that resulted from the Camp David and Oslo agreements (the so-called Middle East peace process in general). From the start, it was announced that these agreements were the beginning of newly-promoted peace and the end of war in the region, but they kept on spawning more wars.
Hence, it’s no longer good enough to criticize these agreements by pointing out their failures; we should criticize the mentalities that led to these kinds of agreements from the start, when it was obvious that they only redrew the lines of conflict and simply shifted fighters from one camp to another without laying down their arms. But even by the standards of the Oslo and Camp David experiences, the latest developments – of which the wall is a prominent feature – are dangerous, especially as they have led to their logical end result. When Egypt signed the Camp David agreement in 1978, it did not end the conflict between Arabs and Israel. On the contrary, the conflict intensified as never before, starting with Lebanon wars up to and including the latest (I hesitate to say “last”) Gaza war. At first, Arabs were required to stay neutral in Israel’s wars against other Arabs, then things developed to the point that more than one Arab party participated in the war against Lebanon with their money, speeches and weapons, taking Israel’s side without even being asked.
Latterly, that semi-neutral position has not been enough. The Arabs are expected to be at the forefront in signing agreements to fight “Israel’s enemies”; that was the essence of the Oslo agreement because the Rabin government was reluctant to open a dialogue with the PLO until later, after the outbreak of the Palestinian uprising (Intifada) and the rise of Hamas and Islamic Jihad. That was when Israel realized that its attempts to eradicate the military capability of the PLO resulted in new problems, much bigger than the one that was solved. Israel hoped that its agreement with the PLO would end the intifada and sideline Hamas and other dangerous elements.
The so-called peace agreements did not leave this expectation to chance; they were explicit that the PLO had a responsibility to combat “acts and threats of terrorism, violence and incitement”, in cooperation with the Israeli authorities and in an “immediate and efficient manner.” I consider this to be one of the most important principles of cooperation, and progress towards final status negotiations depends on its success. And let’s not go back to the debates that were held about Oslo and how it gave the PLO the role of policing the occupation, what was said in defence of the Organisation and the lack of any alternative. As stated above, the issue under discussion relates to the assumptions upon which the agreement was built and the mentalities that accomplished it.
The most problematic issue about Oslo and Camp David is that the exchange in them was between hurriedly put together goods provided by the Arabs and promises of future payments provided by Israel. The Arabs recognized the legitimacy of the Zionist entity and responded to its urgent needs. This response was not only in the form of a commitment by the parties not to threaten Israel and its security, but also an effort to help Israel defend itself against any potential danger. Since Israel did not stop its aggression against Palestinians in particular and Arabs in general (especially in Syria and Lebanon), this undertaking did not make the Arab parties partners in Israeli-led peace; instead they were willing accomplices in Israel’s ongoing aggression against other Arabs. These parties took on this role with different levels of enthusiasm, as diplomatic “moderate” states during the wars in Lebanon in 1978, and from 1982-1985; they launched media campaigns against the Palestine resistance and harassed participants by varying means. The same behaviour was seen during Israel’s war against Hezbollah in Lebanon in 2006, and again during the 2008/9 war against Gaza. Moreover, the eagerness by which the Palestinian security forces help the Israeli authorities against the resistance has exceeded all of the above, unless we include the role of Lebanese militias in the Sabra and Shatila massacre.
In exchange for this enthusiasm to work as part of Israel’s aggression, the Jewish state authorities only provided vague pledges to begin final status negotiations during the agreed transitional period of five years; the solution was to be based on Security Council resolutions 242 and 338. This raises an important question: If there were promises to begin final status negotiations within a short (5 year) period, then why was there a need to establish a transitional authority with a police and security system that works on behalf of the occupation and carries out its administrative and security burdens? It was possible – surely – to wait for the outcome of all negotiations and, if they resulted in the establishment of a Palestinian state, then the institutions of that free and independent state could have been established to protect its own citizens, not to oppress them in favour of the occupation.
One response to that question is that the establishment of such institutions before an independent state exists would be a cord around the PLO’s neck and make it a prisoner of circumstance. That’s because the function of the security apparatus and the monetary resources it attracts, the tens of thousands of jobs it provides and the power and status it gives to individuals, are addictive and drive those in power to bear the unbearable in order not to lose their power, money and influence. To understand the importance of this, consider the late Yasser Arafat; he did not dare to dissolve the Palestinian Authority and declare the Oslo agreement to be null and void even though Israel violated every single one of its commitments under the agreement, even to the extent of placing the Palestinian leader under house arrest and attempting to murder him. We see much of the same with Hamas, which retains the authority of institutions that were established by the Oslo and subsequent agreements without even thinking about abolishing them and replacing them with genuinely national bodies. The reason is obvious; the special titles and privileges granted by these agreements are in the wrong place, not to mention the salaries of thousands of employees.
The same applies to the Camp David agreement and the economic and military aid it provided for Egypt, as well as the status that entitles its officials to sit at the top tables as “peace partners”. These are privileges which many find difficult to resist, so most don’t even try. There is no incentive for these officials to urge Israel and its backers to fulfil their promises, because they have no wish to incur the wrath of Israel and jeopardise their own positions.
We could say that Egypt is different, because it regained its occupied territory in Sinai as part of Camp David. However, this assumes that the war between Egypt and Israel was caused by Israel’s occupation of Sinai. This is a fallacy resorted to by some in order to justify Egypt’s declaration of defeat and its unconditional surrender. Egypt did not fight for Sinai in the wars which occurred between 1948 and the October 1973 war. If it did, then many Arab countries wouldn’t have fought on its side. As such, the claim that the recovery of Sinai was the goal is not correct, unless Egypt is thereby admitting that it has moved away from its pan-Arabism and its humanitarian responsibilities towards the oppressed. To do so will place it on a moral scale lower than Cuba, Venezuela and the peace activists inside Israel. This, of course, assumes that Egypt regained full sovereignty over Sinai in any case, which it didn’t.
This brings us back to the issue of building the “wall of hatred”, as Abdul Bari Atwan has called it, although I prefer “wall of weakness and inaction”. Semi-official sources in Egypt justify the wall by saying that their country does not want to be accused of being soft in the fight against terrorism. This is an insult to the ordinary people of Gaza, who have to resort to tunnels under the border to get basic essentials into the territory due to the immoral blockade. In any case, since when do the Egyptians regard Palestinians as “terrorists”? Fear and weakness drive people to do illogical things, as with the Mamluks who fought hard on behalf of their masters without ever thinking about fighting for their own freedom.
I wonder what kind of thinking drives a sane person to avoid fighting his enemy, using various excuses, not to look for rest and safety but to engage enthusiastically in fighting with the enemies of his enemy? It’s simple: this person and the group he belongs to appreciate too much being favoured by that “enemy”, who they embraced as a close ally, more than they fear death.
One may sympathize with the argument that we have to be realistic and acknowledge that confronting the Israeli enemy is no longer a viable option. But there’s a difference between the “realistic” activists in Algeria who not only refrained from fighting the occupation, but actually enrolled as fighters in the occupation army, and the “reality” of South African fighters who allowed the country’s whites to maintain many of their privileges in exchange for the complete dismantlement of the apartheid regime. In Lebanon, “realism” at one point meant complete surrender to Israel and accepting its occupation, and being part of the occupation army, like those in the Israeli-backed SLA and others. At other times, reality in Lebanon was complete surrender to Syrian domination. However, the “reality” in Lebanon today is that Israel was defeated and kicked out of the country in humiliation, and Syria and its intelligence forces left Lebanon to its people: “And slept not the eyes of the coward,” said Khalid Bin Al-Waleed, may Allah be pleased with him.
The problem of the mentality that generated the tragedies of Oslo and Camp David is that it’s not “realistic” enough; it’s also parasitic, dependent for its existence on the presence of active resistance. Without the presence of Hamas, Israel wouldn’t have agreed to dialogue with the “terrorists” of the Palestinian Liberation Organization, and if it wasn’t for the obduracy of the PLO, Syria, Iraq, Libya, Lebanon (and then Iran), Israel wouldn’t have provided Egypt with partial concessions.
The biggest problem is that positions taken by the “realists” encourage Israel to continue on its path of aggression. Israeli officials need the resistance to help them to take what they believe are courageous decisions, while the presence of hypocrites hamper chances of peace. Without Hezbollah attacks, Ehud Barak wouldn’t have succeeded in promoting to the army and Israeli public his idea of unilateral and unconditional withdrawal from Lebanon. And if it wasn’t for Hamas’s painful blows, Ariel Sharon, of all Israeli politicians, wouldn’t have dismantled the settlements and withdrawn the army from Gaza. The arrival of Camp David and Oslo at their logical dead-end is a reminder that the best assistance that could be offered to the so-called “moderates” in Israel is more pressure, not complacency and soft-spoken words which seduce Benjamin Netanyahu and his like to continue with their arrogance. The same could be said about the Arab dependency on American and European “pressure”, and before that, Russian. So it is actually difficult if not impossible for Barack Obama and others to pressure Israel while the Arabs are asleep and while some of them are closet Zionists who tell the American and Israeli leadership, “We’re with you, we’re only mocking them.” An Arab reality crisis indeed.
The views expressed in this article belong to the author and do not necessarily reflect the editorial policy of Middle East Monitor.