Egypt’s new leader Mohamed Morsi is proving to be a cunning communicator, at least so far as what he puts across to undiscerning Western ears. He manages to sound exceedingly moderate and reasonable, while enunciating unreasonable, indeed radical demands that must be met or else. He in effect says that “it’s my way or the highway.”
Thus, while seeming to affirm his commitment to the 33-year-old peace with Israel, Morsi at the same time piles up impediments upon which he now makes that peace contingent.
The inescapable inference is that if his conditions are not accepted, he would consider himself absolved of his obligation to keep the peace.
Add to that the fact that his stipulations are all but impossible to accede to and a whole other picture emerges than that which is commonly perceived overseas.
Two examples are particularly disturbing. The first is the strident suggestion from Cairo that it is essential that the 1979 Camp David peace treaty with Israel be amended. What Morsi wants is abrogation of the clauses that demilitarize Sinai and prohibit Egyptian army presence there.
Morsi would rather his foreign audiences forget that Israel gave up Sinai and that its one tangible gain from its great concession was the safety of demilitarization that created a sizable buffer zone. Thus Israel was assured that it could not be surprised by a sudden attack from Egypt. No military entry into Sinai could go undetected.
Any departure from this would negate Israel’s most important security safeguard.
Therefore, what Morsi demands should more than raise a few eyebrows. Additionally, his pretext doesn’t quite hold water. Morsi insists that Israel’s refusal to allow unrestricted Egyptian military might in Sinai bars him from curtailing terrorism and crime in that lawless region.
But that’s disingenuous. Morsi cannot put the onus for anti-Israeli terrorism on Israel. In territories covered by a peace agreement, the danger of deadly attacks should not exist. It is not what peace partners should expect.
Combating terrorism is not a function of massive military deployment but of good intelligence and primarily of good intentions to honor obligations. Hence when Cairo embraces Hamas, which dispatches hit squads into Sinai and colludes with assorted jihadists there (who are directed from the Gaza Strip), goodwill appears in short supply.
Heavy armor and artillery in Sinai will not defeat Beduin gangs but will undermine Israel’s most basic existential interests. Morsi is not so naïve as to not understand this.
The same goes for his recent assertion to The New York Times that Egypt will not consider the peace treaty with Israel honored as long as Israel has not evacuated Judea and Samaria and squeezed itself back in the 1949 armistice lines. Again Morsi knows that this endangers Israel, that the creation of a Palestinian state was not part of Israel’s Camp David undertakings and that he is retroactively putting up new conditions to a done deal while misleadingly claiming that Israel has not fulfilled its treaty responsibilities.
In fact, Israel had scrupulously lived up to its every last commitment – to the point of uprooting communities, relinquishing energy sources that it discovered and developed, endangering its shipping and opting for reversible security arrangements. Not only that. Years after the 1982 evacuation of Sinai, Israel further ceded the last contested sliver at Taba over which it had quite a solid claim.
To come after all that and impute ill-will and duplicity to Israel is not to send a hopeful message of the sort that Morsi pretends to be transmitting to all and sundry.
It is a shame that the Times interviewer asked such softball questions and did not press Morsi harder on some of his more unsettling pronouncements. As is, it is hard for Israelis to avoid the fear that things are going the wrong way in Cairo, that it is compounding obstructions to any future Israeli insistence on enforcing the mutually binding treaty, that it plans to make Israel hostage to Palestinian intransigent whims or else forfeit the peace Israel had already paid for with Egypt. None of this bodes well.