By Nath Aldalala’a
What was built on feeble foundations is feeble. The Egypt-Israeli Peace Treaty (EIPT) was signed at a time characterised by a very different domestic and regional political climate. The most notable aspect of that period was the lack of voice from within the ranks of the Egyptian people. Commonly, legitimate governments act on behalf of their citizens to produce rightful, and thus, enduring agreements. Yet this has not been the case with the EIPT. It was signed during a period of acute tension and latent aggression in the region, and this overshadowed any desires for peace. That is, simply, why both the treaty itself and the peace it imposed remained fragile and vulnerable. After the treaty was signed, the Arab world placed a boycott on Egypt and a particularly punitive decision was taken to move the headquarters of the Arab League from Cairo to Tunis. This measure was taken to strip Egypt of its leading role in regional politics and its leadership in Arab policy.
This move had a grave impact on the effect of peace and how it was interpreted across the Middle East. First of all Egypt’s role, as a state, was marginalised over the following decade, and the country was stripped of its strategic importance, and with that the chance for regional peace was substantially diminished. A second factor was that the Egyptian people were put in a Catch 22 situation: an absolute majority of Egyptians did not approve of the treaty, but simultaneously they found themselves excluded from participating in the affairs of their fellow Arabs, which helped Mubarak in particular to capitalise on the situation. He maintained, as had President Anwar Al-Sadat before him, that Egypt’s ‘interest’ could be prioritised or substantially progressed through this peace accord with Israel. From this point of departure, support for the treaty was couched in nationalistic rhetoric, which in effect did not last long. Support for the peace agreement waned simply because it did not seem to serve the national interest of Egypt as much as it upheld that of Israel.
Over the last decade signs of the failed peace between the two sides became more salient. On domestic level, Mubarak’s brutal grip over his people rendered his persona of a tyrant. Consequently, they lost faith in his vision and his approach to peace. Furthermore, the deterioration of living standards compelled Egyptians to question the very legitimacy of their leader. The consequent overthrow of Mubarak was an apt conclusion to his years in power, and one which offers an insight into the nature of his rule in Egypt. At the regional level, owing to their geographical proximity, the Egyptians were witness to the treatment of the Palestinians by Israel. The Israeli occupation became increasingly a colonization and form of punishment. Egyptians observed the expansionist policies of Israel, the inhuman brutal treatment of the Palestinians by Israeli occupying forces, they also watched over massacres at Jenin in 2002 and Gaza in 2009. Most importantly Egyptians were well aware of the impact the Gaza blockade had on the Palestinians. Gradually, the treaty became a burden on the consciousness of ordinary Egyptians as news of Palestinians resorting to the smuggling of food through underground tunnels to sustain their lives brought a feeling of damnation in Egypt, and also throughout the Arab world. These circumstances underlined the degree to which their regional significance had been eroded, and confirmed their perception of Israel’s exploitation of the peace agreement.
Indeed, voices in Egypt began to re-affirm that the peace treaty secured Israeli interests far more than it instigated and sustained peace between the two countries. For most of the 1980s and the early 1990s Egyptians, while sceptic about the treaty, remained largely neutral towards it in general. That means they were not passionate in either their condemnation or their praise for it. Nevertheless, Israel continued to make demands for its legitimacy and “Annerkennung” in the region is accompanied by the logic of force and power rather than that of peace. Israeli reasoning further marginalised the very notion of peace. However, as the protests in Egypt began, and Mubarak started losing his grip, frequent statements emanated from both the Israeli leadership, and America, expressing concerns about the redundancy of the treaty. Anxious voices about the future of peace between Egypt and Israel became increasingly resonant.
From the concerns expressed by Israel and America one may elicit the following: first, an implicit recognition of the fragility of the peace-treaty, and the knowledge that it lacks credibility. The Israelis and Americans were well aware that their ‘Man on the Nile’- Mubarak – had long been the custodian of a treaty, not an actual peace. Second, these interventions by Israel and the U.S. demonstrated that the meaning of peace is contingent on personal affiliations rather than on the wider political will of the region. Third, the Americans recognised that they had not done enough groundwork to enable a lasting peace. While advocating that democracy is essential to the future of the Arab world, the Americans continue to deny sovereignty to the Palestinians. Should they be instrumental in conceding this, it would be an illustration of the egalitarian principles on which they pride themselves.
One further point to be made here is that Israel’s fears about the future of the peace-treaty actually suggest a feeling of vulnerability about its position. This is consequent to the changes in the world- or precisely, the Arab world. The experience of peace in 2011 differs from that of 1979 because the hopes and beliefs in peace have diminished, if not altogether vanished. The two erroneously-described ‘historical’ handshakes of 1979 and 1993, both at the White House, between the Israelis and Arabs were simply a gesture; they did not precipitate lasting peace.
The recent anger expressed in Egypt about the killing of five of their border guards at the hands of Israeli forces, and the recent storming of the Israeli embassy in Cairo by protestors, does not only bring the EIPT into question, it also puts the concept of peace into question. If peace is achievable, is it manageable? The answer is rather easier than the question itself. Peace is achievable when it is just, and is manageable when it is comprehensive. So far none of these conditions for peace have existed. One would assume here that the impulse is to blame Israel. Yet my point is that the embedded structures of the Middle East favour antagonism rather than peace. There has been the ‘process’ in the ME, but there was no peace. The process itself was overshadowed by occupation and violence, which in turn undermined its own ethics. Meanwhile the Egyptian-Israeli relations are in a process rather than an effective peace, and this course lacks both justice and management. Einstein and Erasmus pointed out that peace is separate and preferable to war. It is separate because it exists either to shun war or in consequence to it. It is preferable, in human nature, only when it provides grounds that allow an avoidance of the logic of Bellum omnium contra omnes.
In real terms, the storming of the Israeli embassy in Cairo is not necessarily an act of war. It is a manifestation of the frustration and anger felt by Egyptians after their soldiers were killed. The sense of humiliation and dissent is charged by the fact that their current governing body is not a civil government, but consists of veteran army generals, and this compounds resentment over the deaths of the Egyptian soldiers. Furthermore, Egyptians are more frustrated when they see how Turkey reacted to the killing of its citizens, by Israeli forces, in the flotilla raid. The Turkish action of expelling the Israeli ambassador, suspending military relations, and downgrading diplomatic ties with Israel did not go unnoticed. Turkey had peace accords with Israel since 1949, yet this did not prevent it from acting to preserve its pride and sovereignty.
This accumulation of detail directs Egyptians to the view that their relationship with Israel specifically dented by the peace agreement. For the current and/or future Egyptian government, to accommodate the changes prevailing in Egypt and in the region, it should request certain amendments to the peace-treaty. One of the most significant of these revisions would be with regard to the conditions related to diplomatic ties between Egypt and Israel, and in turn the resolution of the core conflict in the region which is bound up with the Palestinian problem.
The question remains that of how fair is peace, not only between the Egyptians and Israelis, but also how far it might consider the situation of the Palestinians. Thus far, Israel does not wish to have the Palestinian problem tied up with other regional matters, whether these are bilateral or multilateral. Israel has always sought to isolate the Palestinian cause from the wider Arab political calculations, primarily so that it would feel free to pursue the course that best suits its expansionist policies, and without substantial protest from other Arab states.
With regard to this, I emphasise the concept of the ‘state’ because the masses were marginalised and had no voice. Now they do have a voice, and the scene has changed somewhat, so, the future of peace between Egypt and Israel is a test not only for peace itself, but a test of how progress in the Middle East is taking place. I explain: the Egyptian youths paid a heavy price in terms of their blood and their lives over the last six months of uprising. Should they be marginalised again owing to a peace which continued to underpin Israeli interests, this would certainly indicate that the current Military generals, or any future governments, remain as guardians of the peace treaty, and in the shadow of Mubarak.
It is ironic that the peace between these two countries was associated with a particular man, Mubarak, who turned out to be a tyrant. The same evaluation applies to Israel. Does peace or the peace of the Middle East prevail only if we have tyrants in power? It seems to be the case: peace sustained by the power of the gun. This is a mode of peace the Americans are also happy to support. A peace that keeps heads down and ensures that, what the Americans would call the fundamentalists, remain in their caves.
If the end of tyranny means the end of peace between Egypt and Israel, it is a price the Egyptians would be willing to pay. As William Allen White puts it: “peace without justice is tyranny” The Palestinians so far had tyranny without the peace, and the Egyptians had the Tyranny of peace, other peoples in the Arab world had peaceful tyrannies.
– Dr. Nath Aldalala’a – School of English Literature, Newcastle University, United Kingdom – contributed this article to PalestineChronicle.com. Contact him at: [email protected]