The threat to the Israel-Egypt peace treaty

By JONATHAN S. TOBIN

Given the brazen nature of Hamas’s decision to provoke the latest round fighting in and around Gaza, it’s difficult for Israel’s critics to claim that it was not justified in seeking to halt a barrage that sent more than 150 missiles into the south of the country. Nor could they claim with a straight face that Ahmed al-Jabari, the head of Hamas’s so-called military wing and a man responsible for numerous terrorists attacks and murders, is an innocent victim after the Israel Defense Forces took out his car in a deft targeted attack yesterday. But the naysayers are claiming that in opting to defend Israeli citizens and hopefully making it more difficult for Hamas to resume its terrorist offensive, Israeli Prime Minister Netanyahu is effectively destroying his nation’s peace treaty with Egypt.

That’s the conceit of this New York Times article that depicts Egyptian President Mohamed Morsi as being forced into a difficult position by Israel. He is, we are told, trying to maintain the peace treaty in order to appease Western aid donors like the United States, but is still obligated by Egyptian public opinion to denounce Israel. The implication of all this is that if the treaty, which is despised by Morsi’s Muslim Brotherhood and extremely unpopular with the Egyptian public, is scrapped, it will be because Netanyahu has chosen to be provocative.

While it is true that the treaty is in peril, placing the blame for this on Israel is so divorced from reality it’s hard to know where to start to debunk this idea. Morsi is no victim in this scenario. If Egypt’s people are clamoring for the spilling of Israeli blood, it is, in no small measure, because his Islamist party has done its best to promote hatred of Israel and Jews to an extent that few in the West appreciate.

As the Times rightly points out, hatred for Israel is the one factor that seems to unite all elements of Egyptian society. Yet to claim that this is because of the “occupation” or the ill treatment of Palestinians is to misread the problem. Egypt is a country where anti-Semitic incitement is a regular element of popular culture and mainstream political discourse. The visceral hate isn’t about where Israel’s borders should be drawn or specific grievances but the result of decades of incitement against Jews.

The absurdity of Egypt’s response to Hamas’s missile firings that provoked Israel’s counter-attack shouldn’t be ignored. After all, Cairo’s response wasn’t a pusillanimous call for both sides to exercise restraint but an implicit endorsement of Hamas’s right to rain down hundreds of deadly rockets deliberately aimed at Israel’s civilian population.

The idea that Israel should refrain from defending its citizens against indiscriminate missile attacks across an internationally recognized border in order to appease Egyptian public opinion is so morally corrupt that it is barely worth spending the time to refute it. But the main point to take away from this discussion is that Egyptian attitudes toward Israel stem from that country’s deep-seated prejudices, not a rational evaluation of Netanyahu’s policies.

The notion that the treaty’s survival depends on Israel’s quiet acceptance of a steady diet of terror attacks is pure fiction.

The Egypt-Israel peace treaty was not a gift from Egypt to Israel. If anything, it was gift to Egypt from Israel and the United States in that it allowed Cairo to opt out of a costly conflict that it had tired of and rewarded it with an annual bribe in the form of billions of dollars of American taxpayer cash. For decades the Mubarak regime profited from the treaty, but compensated for its heresy against Arab nationalist ideology by allowing anti-Semitism to thrive in the country’s media and popular culture.

Morsi and the Egyptian army are uneasy bedfellows in the current government, but both know that an outright repudiation of the treaty would be a costly error. Since relations with Israel were already ice cold under Mubarak, it has been difficult for the Muslim Brotherhood government to find ways to make them even colder. Morsi is appeasing domestic opinion by recalling his ambassador to Israel and publicly backing Hamas. But he is also being careful not to allow the Gaza terrorist group — which is formally allied with Morsi’s political party — to compromise his freedom of action. Thus, he has not re-opened the terrorist smuggling tunnels from the Sinai into Gaza.

If the day comes when Morsi decides he doesn’t need American money anymore, you can bet he may cancel the treaty with Israel even if his country’s military is petrified at the thought of being forced to face off against the IDF. Which is why the preservation of a treaty whose main contemporary purpose is to serve as a rationale for U.S. aid to Egypt isn’t likely to be affected by anything Israel does in Gaza. The real threat to the treaty comes from a culture of Jew hatred, not Israeli self-defense.

Jonathan S. Tobin is the senior online editor of Commentary magazine and the former executive editor of the magazine. This column originally ran here in the magazine’s blog Contentions.  Tobin was the former editor-in-chief of the Jewish Exponent in Philadelphia and the Connecticut Jewish Ledger and has received numerous journalism awards throughout his distinguished career.

 

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