Tags: Analysis: Egypt-Israel-Palestine Policy Unclear

Analysis: Egypt-Israel-Palestine Policy Unclear

Thursday, 09 Jun 2011 01:01 PM


Cairo’s decisions to reopen the border crossing with Gaza, cut natural gas shipments to Israel, and broker a Palestinian unity deal reflect Egypt’s evolving and unpredictable foreign policy after Mubarak.

Since the resignation of President Hosni Mubarak on February 11, 2011, there have been several major changes in Egyptian policy toward Israel and the Palestinians. On February 22nd, Egypt allowed Iranian warships to transit the Suez Canal for the first time in over 30 years. Israel viewed the transit of the Iranian ships, enroute to Syria for a training exercise, as a provocation. In April, Egypt broke with Israel and the U.S. and secretly negotiated a unity agreement between the Hamas and Fatah Palestinian factions. Egypt also shut down its natural gas pipeline to Israel and Jordan in April due to damage from a terrorist attack but did not resume gas shipments after the pipeline was repaired

On May 28, Egypt claimed it was permanently opening its border with Gaza, a move that ended the Israeli blockade of Gaza that began when Hamas took control of Gaza in 2007. However, according to Washington Post and McClatchy reports, Cairo put restrictions on who could cross the border and closed the border crossing briefly on June 4th. According to CNN, on June 5th, Hamas authorities closed the Gaza side of the border to protest Cairo’s border crossing restrictions. The Associated Press reported that the border was reopened on June 7 after Egypt reached an unspecified agreement with Hamas.

A New Direction for Egyptian Foreign Policy?

According to The Independent of London, the Palestinian unity agreement was the result of weeks of Egyptian-brokered secret negotiations between Palestinian officials, Egyptian intelligence officials, and the Turkish foreign minister and involved meetings in Egypt and Syria. The agreement was condemned by Israeli Prime Minister Netanyahu as an obstacle to peace since he refuses to negotiate with Hamas – or any alliance Hamas is a part of – until Hamas renounces its commitment to the destruction of Israel, the killing of Jews, and violence.

When Egyptian Foreign Minister Nabil Elaraby was questioned about the unity agreement by Washington Post Senior Associate Editor Lally Weymouth early last month, Elaraby said Egypt’s brokering of the agreement was part of its attempt to “open a new page to all countries in the world.” While Elaraby stressed Egypt’s intentions to maintain close relations with the United States and to abide by treaty obligations, the foreign minister endorsed an effort by Palestinian officials to be recognized as a state at this fall’s UN General Assembly and rejected American and Israelis concerns that Hamas is a terrorist organization bent on the destruction of Israel by claiming the British once considered George Washington to be a terrorist.

Egypt shut down a natural gas pipeline that provides gas to Israel and Jordan after an April 27 terrorist attack. According to the New York Times, although the pipeline was quickly repaired, it has not reopened because of popular Egyptian opposition to selling gas to Israel and the perception that former President Mubarak gave Israel a sweetheart deal. The pipeline provides 40 percent of Israel’s natural gas and 80 percent of Jordan’s gas needs. U.S. and Thai shareholders in the pipeline are demanding the gas shipments be resumed and are considering legal action.

Analysis

The Egyptian caretaker government, while claiming it will stick by the 1979 Camp David Accord with Israel, is responding to popular sentiments in the country and pent-up demand to build new international relationships. The new policies also reflect growing anti-Israel sentiment and a desire to work with Hamas instead of joining Israel in isolating it. However, Egyptian leaders will try to balance this policy to also maintain a working relationship with the United States.

Egypt’s new policy distancing itself from Israel and embracing Hamas will make it more difficult for Israel to agree to an Arab-Israeli peace agreement. Israeli leaders will be watching this development with trepidation in the run-up to Egyptian presidential elections this fall.

International pressure and a threat of legal action probably will prod Egypt to soon resume natural gas shipments to Israel and Jordan, although possibly at a higher price. However, this incident will likely encourage Israel to accelerate efforts to develop a huge natural gas field recently discovered off its coast. Production from the Israeli gas field is scheduled to begin in 2013.

Unforeseen Consequences

Hamas closed its border with Egypt in protest to Cairo’s visa requirements for Palestinian men between 18 and 40 years old and restriction in the number of border crossings to 350 to 400 Palestinians per day, according to the Jerusalem Post and CNN. Hamas blamed Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas for the restrictions, according to the Jerusalem Post. The terms of the Hamas-Egypt agreement to reopen the border today have not been made public.

Analysis

Cairo’s initial announcement of the reopening of its border with Gaza probably was not a genuine offer to allow all Palestinians unfettered travel from Gaza into Egypt. It also is clear Cairo was caught off guard by the large numbers of Palestinians who wanted to travel to Egypt. Egyptian officials are now weighing pressure by Hamas and its supporters in Egypt for a truly open border against the destabilizing effects of a truly open border and how it would allow easier transit for terrorists and weapons into and out of Gaza.


Fred Fleitz recently joined Newsmax after a 25 year career with the Central Intelligence Agency, the Defense Intelligence Agency, the US Department of State, and the House Permanent Select Committee on Intelligence staff. He served as Chief of Staff to Ambassador John Bolton and as a Senior Adviser to former House Intelligence Ranking Member Peter Hoekstra.


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Analysis: Egypt-Israel-Palestine Policy Unclear
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2011-01-09
Thursday, 09 Jun 2011 01:01 PM
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