Upgrade the Relationship with Egypt

by Gedalyah Reback

Put It on an Incline

Despite whatever we are reading in relation to Avigdor Lieberman, Israel and Egypt have been working together like they never have before. Egypt has essentially sided with the Israelis in both of the country’s previous two wars, and has been indispensable in its anti-smuggling policies into Gaza. Considering the pressure Egypt is under, and its willingness to work with Israel in combating Hamas, the Israeli government needs to start implementing long-term policies that envision strong Israeli ties with the major countries in the Middle East.

Egypt is a priority. Israel should be laying out brought goals regarding trade, increased security, and massive economic development in the Sinai Peninsula that would benefit both countries’ rapidly increasing populations demand for space. That will become an increasing priority over the next 100 years, with sea levels rising due to global warming and the predicted flooding of the Nile Delta region.

Short Term: Diplomacy and Gaza

In the meantime, Egypt is under intense pressure, evident in its confrontation with Avigdor Lieberman, to downgrade relations with Israel. No matter if Israeli firepower was too much in Gaza, it is perceived that way by Egyptians and other Arabs. The Israeli government needs to give the Egyptians immediate breathing room.

Whether he likes it or not, Foreign Minister Lieberman should give into the demand he apologize to Hosni Mubarak for his comments last year. The Egyptians demand it, otherwise they’ll ignore him when dealing with Israeli diplomats. There is a cycle of stubbornness in Middle Eastern policy right now whose pressure ought to be alleviated – this would be a first step (and it doesn’t cost anything other than pride). I personally don’t like want Lieberman in the position he is in, but I’ll be practical and stick to recommending what to do with him rather than getting rid of him.

Mubarak calling Netanyahu proves Egypt has no interest in being cold to the Israeli government. Mubarak wants to solve these problems, and he’d prefer to do it with the Israelis.

Prime Minister Netanyahu will need to get the crossings into Gaza open at some point, and it should be done before a prisoner exchange. The public support for policy of arms in Gaza will dwindle after the crossings are opened, though that would probably take months. This will prevent any released Palestinian prisoners from being immediately sent back into battle.

But any openings would need to be coupled with a massive influx of Israeli intelligence to track down weapons that Hamas has stolen from UNRWA(unexploded ordinance used by the Israelis that’d been gathered by UNRWA and subsequently stolen by Hamas). Israel is still in a state of war with Gaza (this is not speculation, the Kadima-controlled Israeli Cabinet said as much right after Hamas’ coup in Summer 2007)

No matter what order the Israeli government sees as the most beneficial, the priority should be to help out Egypt diplomatically, and give countries (like Jordan) incentive to also warm back up any aspects of foreign relations between Israel that might have cooled over the last few months.

Long Term: Mubarak, the Muslim Brotherhood and the Religious Israelis

Hosni Mubarak will not be around forever, like mentioned in several recent articles published on the 30th anniversary of the Israeli-Egyptian Peace Treaty. Perhaps his son or a similar politician to him will be his replacement, but inevitably the Islamic Brotherhood or other right-wing Egyptian parties will wiggle some power from the regime. If the layout for a post-Mubarak relationship is not presented, the cold peace with Egypt could deteriorate into something negligible.

Israeli policy needs to accommodate the reality of Islamist regimes in its periphery. Intelligence experts, diplomats and public relations officials must be more familiar with Islamic legal principals in order to undermine so-called religious arguments by Islamist politicians and half-rate Islamic scholars. Given the global crisis facing Islam and its legal system, the Israeli government must be as well-connected with and knowledgeable about Islamic Law as it is about Jewish Law in order to solicit proper contacts in the Muslim World (not just Egypt).

The fatwas issues by Palestinian clerics, declaring it a crime punishable by death to sell land to Jews, are the foundations for undermining Jewish rights to trade throughout the Middle East. This, if allowed to continue, will block any feasible peace from forming between Israelis and Arabs, preventing business contacts and the sale of property to Jews in all contexts – private or corporate. Without economic peace, there will be no peace. This does bring up how well the land laws are being applied in Jerusalem, but another Jewish perspective ought to be thrown into the mix.

The Jewish right to own property, both in Jewish law and as should be recognized in international treaties, cannot be held hostage if Israel’s economy will inevitably expand to benefit both Jewish and non-Jewish citizens. Jewish Israelis who are devoted to the idea of settling Israel and reject the violent ideas of some nationalists, will be totally undermined if their argument for peaceable property acquisition is discredited by those further to the right.

Longer Term: Economic

I mention these things because Israel will have an intense interest in helping Egypt develop the Sinai peninsula. Egypt’s population is nearing 80 million, well-beyond the point of residential comfort for Egyptians in the Nile Delta. Egypt will be looking to spread its population out along its underpopulated Sinai and Red Sea coastlines. It has the potential for major Israeli involvement in development projects, especially since any new development might be in conjunction with Israeli development in the Negev.

But there is an even more urgent need for Egypt, considering global warming projections over the next century predict much of the Nile Delta will be flooded by the Mediterranean. Israel does not have the problems Egypt does, so it can afford to prioritizing helping its neighbor adjust to the rising tides. Israel can take advantage of the opportunity to build long awaited canals that will channel more water into Israel. There is room in the Negev and Sinai deserts to pool water, a potential joint project that would involve the growing Israeli Water Industry.

When Prime Minister Menachem Begin and President Anwar Sadat made their peace agreement in 1979, Begin agreed to give over the entire Sinai Peninsula, and even accepted an $80 Million buy-out from the Egyptian government for the Jewish settlement of Yamit. Something similar happened with the Ofira settlement right outside Sharm el-Sheikh.

At the last minute the day of Yamit’s evacuation in 1982, PM Begin decided to level the settlement instead, thinking former Jewish settlers would travel back to Egypt and attack the new Egyptian residents (much like former Palestinian residents crossed the Jordan River and attacked Jewish refugees who had been settled in their old neighborhoods after the Israeli War of Independence. (The settlement’s ruins are still visible on a full zoom on Google Maps.)

The wake of the evacuation left a scar on Israeli-Egyptian relations at their birth. Egypt envisioned what the Israelis originally set out to do at Yamit: build a bustling port city. Instead, Egypt would have to rebuild the town if it wanted to achieve that, and the investment has apparently not been worth the time of planning and reconstruction.

Conclusion: I’m Casting Broad Strokes
A general and mutual respect for legal systems will inevitably give Islamic governments a reason to accommodate economic ventures with Israel who are willing to spend millions to legitimately buy property from Palestinians (a strategy which would undermine the extreme right-wing in the Jewish camp).

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