Last October, we suggested in this space that a recent Egyptian-Israeli prisoner exchange involving 25 Egyptians in Israeli jails for Ilan Grapel, a 27-year-old Israeli who had been arrested in Egypt on spy charges, was an opportunity to salvage relations between the two countries.
For better or worse, that opportunity has passed.
Since the Grapel exchange, the Egyptian government, led by its new Muslim Brotherhood-led assembly, has made it all too clear it will have no interaction with Israeli authorities.
Also, Egypt, which previously supplied 40 percent of Israel’s natural gas, cut off supplies to the Jewish state more than once in 2011 when terrorists conveniently sabotaged its pipeline in the Sinai.
Now, the Muslim Brotherhood is threatening to “review” its 1979 peace treaty with Israel if the United States cuts aid to Egypt, which Congress threatened to do after Egyptian authorities filed charges Feb. 6 against 43 pro-democracy activists, including 19 Americans among whom is the son of U.S. Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood.
Mohamed Mursi, leader of the Muslim Brotherhood-sponsored Freedom and Justice Party, said in a statement that the peace agreement “could stumble” over U.S. talk of halting the aid.
We’re not talking about small change here. The United States provides roughly $1.5 billion in foreign assistance to Egypt — second only to Israel. That’s money the Egyptian establishment — namely, its army — would miss were it not there.
Yet of instead of negotiation with the United States, Egypt has resorted to extortion. Its threat to cancel a historic accord if Washington touches its aid package is shameless blackmail, the implication being that such a move could draw Israel into a possible conflict with its neighbor. It’s the same tactic Saddam Hussein used in the First Gulf War when he fired Scud missiles at Israel to stop coalition attacks on Iraq — only this time, the weapon of choice is a peace treaty, not a rocket.
Let’s be frank. Since the fall of Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak, the Egypt-Israel Peace Treaty has been a paper treaty. Sounds redundant, right? All treaties are printed on paper. But true treaties are manifested in the actions the signatories take for the benefit of all involved.
In this case, however, the treaty really is little more than a piece of paper. Israel’s border with Sinai is heating up. Her gas supply from Egypt is tenuous at best. Her embassy in Cairo was attacked. Finally, the Muslim Brotherhood engages in warlike rhetoric in the media.
Last December, Israeli Defense Minister Ehud Barak appeared before the General Assembly of the Union for Reform Judaism and made an impassioned plea for the peace treaty’s preservation, calling it “a strategic necessity — good for Egypt, good for Israel and good for the entire region.”
With last week’s threat from Egypt, it is clearly evident that Cairo now views the treaty as little more than a poker chip.
That doesn’t mean Israel or the United States should give up on peace with Egypt. (Indeed, a delegation of three U.S. senators went to Egypt this week for talks about the fate of the Americans charged there.) But neither should they become hostages to Egyptian threats.
Ehud Barak said something else of note during his URJ address: While he continues to believe peace with Israel’s neighbors is possible and achievable, “In the spirit of the Macabees, we’ll assure that our own fate remains in our own hands.”