After exactly a month in office, President Mohamed Morsi's honeymoon period has come to an abrupt end. Diplomatic snares are popping up in all directions. That his earliest foreign policy tests should come from neighbouring Israel was predictable. First, there was a video clip showing young Israelis standing on his photograph. That was followed by the leak of a letter purportedly written by Morsi to Shimon Peres in response to two previous letters from his Israeli counterpart. Denials from Cairo and affirmations from Tel Aviv have fuelled wild speculation and media interest in both cities.
In normal circumstances, the exchange of diplomatic courtesies is seldom a matter for headlines. But this is post-Mubarak Egypt and the ousted president's successor was, until recently, a leading figure in the much-reviled Muslim Brotherhood. The movement has been the bête noire of Israelis for decades, even before the State of Israel was created in Palestine. Yet, according to reports, Peres wrote to Morsi congratulating him on his success in the elections and then followed it up with another congratulatory missive on the occasion of Ramadan.
This week the Israeli newspaper Yedioth Ahronoth claimed that Morsi reciprocated with a letter thanking Mr Peres. Its publication of a "copy" of the letter was dismissed by the Egyptian presidency as a "fabrication".
Since the ouster of Hosni Mubarak in January 2011, Israeli leaders have been agonising over the political consequences. His departure from the political stage meant that they had lost an invaluable "treasure", according to former defence minister Abraham Ben Eliezer. In their search for a replacement they threw their full weight behind the candidacy of Gen. Ahmad Shafiq in the presidential elections. From Israel's viewpoint, almost anyone was more acceptable than a president from the Muslim Brotherhood, for not only did the Muslim Brotherhood send thousands of combatants to the war front in 1948, they also, in fact, have never recognised the legitimacy of the State of Israel.
On their part, Israeli leaders have always maintained that "political Islam", as represented by the Brotherhood is the only force capable of impeding their hegemonic ambitions in the region. Indeed, they have convinced their Western allies, particularly the Americans, that this is the case. So much so that American officials have suddenly broken their long standing tradition of ignoring the Middle East during an election year to come to Cairo.
As patron of the Camp David Accords, Washington considers itself duty bound to ensure that the peace treaty remains intact. This matter has been the number one item on the agenda of all the recent meetings in Cairo despite the public utterances about promoting democracy and human rights.
While it is all well and good for President Morsi to adhere to the treaty between Egypt and Israel, he must make it clear to his American visitors that he is not in a position to honour the first part of the Camp David Accords in so far as they relate to Palestine; and he should explain why.
For a start, the Camp David Accords did not allow for the Palestinians to attain and exercise their rights fully. The treaty merely offered "autonomy" and a "self-governing authority" for Palestinians in the West Bank and Gaza Strip. Because it ignored all the other rights usurped in 1948, notably the right of return for refugees, President Morsi should not endorse it. He must therefore remind the Americans that because of these built-in deficiencies, the Accords were condemned thus by the UN on 29 November 1979: "that the Camp David accords and other agreements have no validity in so far as they purport to determine the future of the Palestinian people and of the Palestinian territories occupied by Israel since 1967." [Resolution 34/65]
Buoyed by the assurances they received from Egyptian officials and the Muslim Brotherhood, Washington, it seems is now preparing to take matters to another level. That is to arrange a meeting between Morsi and Peres. There is fierce opposition to this in Cairo.
In an article written this week the veteran Egyptian writer Fahmi Huweidi urged President Morsi "not to meet him [Peres]". The people of Egypt who brought down Mubarak did not want a change of face in office, Muslim Brotherhood or not. What they wanted was a change of direction. Under no circumstances will they entertain the same lop-sided relationship with Israel. As Huweidi asserted, even if international obligations dictate respect for the Camp David Accords, there is nothing therein which obliges Egypt to be an ally of Israel and an accomplice in its crimes.
In the grand scheme of things the controversy surrounding the presidential letters should not be given more attention than it deserves. Nor should it become a side-show choreographed to embarrass, discredit or undermine Morsi at home. Now that the honeymoon is over his challenge is to realise the ideals of the 25 January Revolution. More important than the protocols of diplomacy, that involves ending the cycle of dependency and delivering the renaissance programme for which he was elected.