Guest Contribution by Jonathan D. Halevi
The following piece was originally published by Jerusalem Center for Public Affairs. The author, Jonathan D. Halevi, is a senior researcher of the Middle East and Radical Islam at the Jerusalem Center for Public Affairs headed by former Israeli Ambassador to the UN, Dr. Dore Gold. Mr. Halevi is also director of research for the Orient Research Group Ltd., a strategic and private information services company.
The prevailing optimism in media reports concerning the Egyptian Muslim Brotherhood and the Salafist party’s readiness to adhere to the peace treaty with Israel is based on general statements made by senior officials in both parties. These statements maintain that Egypt must honor the international treaties that it signed.
Yet a more rigorous examination of the two parties’ stances identifies a markedly different tendency. Both seek a way to cast off the Camp David agreement in a manner that will incur minimal diplomatic and economic damage to Egypt, and restore Egypt to its leading role in the circle of states confronting Israel.
The Muslim Brotherhood has set a number of criteria for examining international agreements, including the Camp David agreement: the considerations of Islamic canon law (Sharia), the position of the Egyptian people, and the degree of Israel’s compliance with the agreement from Egypt’s perspective.
The strategic objective of the Egyptian Islamic movements is to transform Egypt into a prime regional force that will lead the diplomatic and military battle against Israel. This means re-examining the Camp David agreement and submitting it to the decision of the new parliament that will be controlled by the Islamic parties or to a referendum – thereby alleviating the responsibility of any future Egyptian government for cancelling the peace treaty. These developments can be averted if the U.S. and its allies take a firm position against any initiative to undermine the Treaty of Peace between Israel and Egypt, and all echelons of the Egyptian establishment are made to understand the implications of any such action.
The revolution in Egypt, followed by elections to the parliament, has elevated the Islamic parties to a position of power as they enjoy an absolute parliamentary majority after the two initial stages of the parliamentary elections. The Muslim Brotherhood movement’s Freedom and Justice party won 49 percent of the total seats that it contested (73 out of 150) in the first stage of the elections and the Salafist al-Nur party won about 20 percent of the seats (30 seats). In the second stage of the elections the Muslim Brotherhood won about 40 percent of the votes and al-Nur about 35 percent. The final stage of the elections will take place in January 2012. However, we can already form the distinct impression that the Egyptian parliament will be controlled by the absolute majority retained by these two extreme Islamic parties.
In recent journalistic reports we repeatedly hear the claim that the Freedom and Justice party and the al-Nur party will continue to honor the Camp David peace agreement with Israel after the new regime has been consolidated under their leadership. These reports are essentially based on general statements made by senior officials in both parties to the effect that Egypt must honor the international agreements that it signed. However, a rigorous examination of the two parties’ stances indicates a totally different tendency: namely, the two parties seek to cast off the Camp David accords in a manner that will cause Egypt the minimal possible diplomatic and economic damage.
The issue of Egyptian adherence to the Camp David agreement was brought up during discussions that Senator John Kerry conducted together with the American Ambassador to Cairo, Anne Patterson, with leaders of the Freedom and Justice party on December 10, 2011. Dr. Mohammed Morsi, the party chairman, referred to the issue in general terms. A report on the meeting by the official website of the Muslim Brotherhood stated:
Morsi noted that Egypt is a large country with a deep-rooted history that fulfills an important role in the Arab, Islamic and international arenas and therefore it honors the agreements and contracts which it has signed. He demanded that the American administration listen directly to the people rather than listen to what is said about them, while emphasizing that the United States could play a role in facilitating economic stability and prosperity for all peoples should it choose to do so.1
New Egyptian Conditions
The Muslim Brotherhood set a number of criteria for examining international agreements, including the Camp David agreement. First, there is Islamic canon law (Sharia); second, one must take into account the Egyptian people’s position which Morsi mentioned in his talk with Senator Kerry; and third, one must weigh the degree of compliance by the other party to any agreement that was signed with Egypt.
The platform of the Freedom and Justice party determines that it will honor international human rights agreements, provided that they do not contradict the Islamic Sharia. Regarding the peace agreement with Israel, the platform states that agreements between countries must be acceptable to the people and conform to the principles of justice and the interests of the parties. Respect for these agreements is conditional upon an obligation by the parties to fulfill them in full, as is the norm in international relations. “Therefore, the party considers it obligatory to reappraise many of the agreements that were signed in various fields by the old regime.”2
Calls to Re-examine the Treaty with Israel
Senior leaders of the Freedom and Justice party have on numerous occasions in recent months favored amending or abrogating the Camp David accords and severing diplomatic and economic relations with Israel. On August 25, 2011, party chairman Dr. Mohammed Morsi demanded a re-examination of the Camp David agreement, and contended that Israel’s “attack” on an Egyptian army border position (that was in response to terrorist fire at the IDF from this position) exemplified Israel’s systematic violation of the agreement.3
Dr. Ahmed Abu Baraka, the Freedom and Justice party’s legal advisor and a senior leader of the party, said on August 28 that it was necessary to re-examine all the clauses of the Camp David agreement to see whether its abrogation was mandated. He emphasized the importance of deploying Egyptian army forces in the Sinai, equipped with heavy and advanced weaponry, in order to deter Israel.4
Dr. Mohammed Gamal Hismat, a senior leader of the Freedom and Justice party and a former parliament member, proposed on August 24 to establish a legal committee that would examine the Camp David agreement in light of Israel’s “continued violation” of the agreement.5
Dr. Essam El-Arian, the deputy leader of the Freedom and Justice party, on August 23 minimized the importance of American threats to terminate assistance to Egypt if it were to disown the Camp David agreement, and contended that Israel was violating the agreement “in a blatant fashion.”6
Dr. Hamdy Ismail, the party secretary in the Ismailiya district, explained on October 31 that the issue of the Camp David agreement directly affected the Egyptian citizenry, and therefore raised a proposal within the party to submit the decision on the issue to a referendum.7
Dr. Ahmed Rami, a senior Freedom and Justice party leader in the Qalyubiya district, called on August 27 for a re-examination of the Camp David agreement, noting that the revolution in Egypt marked the outset of a journey to liberate Jerusalem in view of the fact that the “Zionist entity is near collapse.”8
These positions received additional validation from the leader of the Muslim Brotherhood, Dr. Mohammed Badie, who in his weekly letters to movement activists elaborates his doctrine and positions with regard to the United States and Israel following the revolutions in Egypt and the Arab world. Badie terms the Camp David accord “a surrender” agreement and he presents a list of demands on this issue. In his letter of May 5, 2011, Badie wrote:
We vociferously call for the termination of normalization, that provided our enemy [Israel] with stability, putting an end to securing the Zionist borders and the killing of infiltrators into the enemy’s [territory], the abrogation of the issues of economic interests such as the QIZ,9 a [halt] to gas exports that wrought damage to our national security, urgent action to complete the opening of the Rafah crossing on a permanent basis and a re-examination of the Camp David agreement so it can be presented to the National Assembly elected in free elections, thus allowing it to have its say after it was denied this for years.10
Badie defines Israel and the United States as Egypt’s principal adversaries. In his weekly letter of October 6, 2011, he reaches the clear conclusion that “our main enemy is the Zionist-American plan, which aspires to take over the entire region in order to establish Greater Israel and the New Middle East.”11
Badie does not mention any option for cooperation with Israel or the United States, but, on the contrary, in his evaluation these two countries, that represent the most dangerous threat to Egypt, are currently in a state of historic decline:
The global forces, the Zionists and Americans, are absorbing a succession of debacles and defeats, commencing with Israel’s isolation and loss of its regional supporters, and the American failures in the military realm (in Iraq and Afghanistan), and in the economic arena that threaten the collapse of the capitalist regime as a result of failed policy and the huge expenses and wars prosecuted under the pretext of liquidating what they call terror. They’ve forfeited their credibility among peoples and now they’ve lost their financial sources, and we do not rule out the possibility that their fate will approximate the Soviet Union’s fate….At the same time the blessed revolutions of the Arab Spring presage a total change in the Arab national map.12
The irrelevance of the Camp David agreement finds expression in the Muslim Brotherhood movement’s overt aspiration to bring about the “liberation” of the entire territory of “Palestine,” a concept that dovetails with its Islamic ideological platform, and which finds expression in the current optimistic assessment by the Muslim Brotherhood leader on the prospects for realizing this vision in practice. In his weekly letter of June 9, 2011, Badie writes:
Victory is near with the help of Allah, it is definite and there can be no doubt about it. The restoration of Palestine, al Quds [Jerusalem], the Golan, and all the lands that Israel conquered is no longer feverish imagination, but a hope that will soon be realized after the [Arab] nations have revolted….The era of “Israeli” superiority has ended and “Israel” has begun to doubt its continuity and survival.13
The official position of the Salafist al-Nur party resembles that of the Muslim Brotherhood. Dr. Emad Abdel Ghafour, the party leader, says:
It is obligatory to honor the agreements to which Egypt is affiliated, and we demand that they be met. There are many passages in the peace agreement that were not implemented [by Israel], such as a solution to the Palestinian problem, the right of self-determination [for the Palestinian people], and the autonomy of a Palestinian state on Palestinian soil. There are many issues that must be implemented so that the Palestinian people will sense that it has benefited from the peace process….The peace agreement of Camp David requires a re-examination.14
Dr. Yousry Hamad, the spokesperson for the al-Nur party, explained that the party’s position on the Camp David agreement would be adopted on the basis of Sharia,15 and vigorously denied journalistic reports that the party was ostensibly prepared to maintain contacts with the Israeli ambassador in Cairo.16
The optimism regarding a radical change in the positions of these extreme Egyptian Islamic movements regarding Israel grasps at the straws of general statements that do not attest to an ideological reversal, but convey the tactics for obtaining the strategic objective: casting off the Camp David agreement and transforming Egypt into a prime regional force that will lead the diplomatic and military battle against Israel.
The Muslim Brotherhood, as well as the al-Nur party, is seeking a convenient exit point from the Camp David agreement, due to an awareness of the implications of violating a binding diplomatic treaty under international law and the immediate damage that the Egyptian economy is likely to absorb as a direct result of an initiated abrogation of the Camp David accords.
Egypt receives $1.3 billion annually in U.S. military assistance, while in 2010 American economic assistance totaled $250 million. The Egyptian army’s main strength is predicated on American weapons systems including F-16 and F 14 aircraft, Apache helicopters, M1A1 and M60A3 tanks, surface-to-air missiles, spy planes, and more. In the framework of bilateral military cooperation, the armies of the two countries customarily conduct joint training and maneuvers.
How to Nullify the Peace Treaty
Yet the die has been cast and the strategic choice has already been made. The only question on the agenda is how to implement this decision at a minimal diplomatic and economic cost. We can infer from comments by senior Muslim Brotherhood members that they are interested in playing the “democratic game” to the hilt on this issue as well. This means re-examining the Camp David agreement and submitting it to the decision of the new parliament that will be controlled by the Islamic parties or to a referendum – thereby alleviating the responsibility of any future Egyptian government for cancelling the peace treaty. The immediate pretext will be Israel’s noncompliance with clauses in the agreement, in order to attribute to Israel the blame for the treaty’s abrogation.
It would appear that the Muslim Brotherhood’s appraisal is that following their seizure of power and additional achievements of the Arab Spring, the U.S. will be compelled to accept the new reality, just as it has made peace with the situation up to now. American leaders have even reiterated their praise for the democratic process, although this process has elevated the radical Islamic forces to new positions of power. These forces aspire to drain democracy of content and gradually (the Muslim Brotherhood strategy) or immediately (the al-Nur party approach) implement Islamic religious law.
From Israel’s standpoint, the revolution in Egypt and its translation at the ballot box into the Islamic Revolution carries the serious potential for transforming Egypt in the foreseeable future into an enemy and restoring it to the circle of confrontation states. Israel is doing its utmost to preserve the Camp David agreement even for appearances sake. However, developments in Egypt will inevitably lead to the creation of a serious security challenge on Israel’s southern border. The new Egypt will try to exercise its full sovereignty in Sinai and deploy regular forces there, employing various pretexts, beginning with Israeli “violations” of the Camp David agreement, proceeding with the need to defend itself against an Israeli attack, and concluding with Egypt’s obligation to protect its Palestinian brothers in Gaza.
Furthermore, the Muslim Brotherhood movement in Egypt, the parent movement of Hamas, provides ongoing assistance to Hamas and furnishes it with strategic backing that is growing more potent due to the Brotherhood’s increased strength in the recent elections. A high proportion of Izzedine al Qassam Brigade activists who were killed in recent years in Gaza were simultaneously Muslim Brotherhood activists and Hamas members. The plausible assumption is that one of the Muslim Brotherhood’s first objectives after it assumes the reins of power will be to guarantee an open border crossing between Gaza and Egypt, and to provide comprehensive economic and military assistance to Hamas that will pose new security risks for Israel.
Furthermore, the strategic alliance between the Muslim Brotherhood and Hamas may constrain Israel’s freedom of military action in Gaza (as well as in the West Bank) because this could provoke an Egyptian military response, including the transfer of aid, weapons, and intelligence to Hamas, the deployment of Egyptian forces in Sinai and/or in Gaza, stationing Egyptian antiaircraft systems on the border of Gaza, and threats of direct military action.
These developments can be averted if the U.S. and its allies take a firm position against any initiative to undermine the Treaty of Peace between Israel and Egypt, and all echelons of the Egyptian establishment are made to understand the implications of any such action.
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9. The QIZ Agreement (QIZ-Qualified Industrial Zones) was signed in 2005 between the governments of the United States, Israel and Egypt. The agreement defined industrial zones whose factories would receive a customs exemption on their exports to the United States if a certain percentage of the raw materials originated in Israel.