It's been 25 years since Israel and Egypt signed a peace treaty that has been
notable most of all for the coldness of the peace that it brought.
But as Israel and the Palestinians attempt to restart the peace process,
Egypt is again playing a crucial role.
To listen to Nabil Fahmy, Egypt's ambassador to the United States, that's
only natural. He's been involved in the last 25 years of diplomacy and believes
it is imperative that the parties, with the help of the United States, keep at
HARD NOT TO BELIEVE
Having recently had the opportunity to sit down and talk with Fahmy, I
couldn't help but be impressed with him.
The ambassador was born in New York and speaks fluent English with a distinct
American accent. He is articulate, smart and understands exactly how to speak
to Americans, particularly Jewish audiences.
Listening to his soft-spoken and reasonable analysis of the situation, it's
hard not to believe that peace is possible.
He is quick to acknowledge the frustrations felt by Israelis and Jews about
the cold peace, but says Egyptians are frustrated, too. Just as Israel wanted
normal relations and a warm peace, "Egyptians wanted a complete peace" that
would involve the Palestinians and other Arab nations, he says.
"There are unfulfilled expectations on both sides," says Fahmy.
But despite the drawbacks of the status quo, Fahmy is right when he says it
"is better than the alternative."
And in order for Israelis and Palestinians to come to terms with each other,
he believes both sides must give as well as get.
"I believe most Palestinians and Israelis support a two-state solution and a
peace process," he asserts.
The formula, as he sees it, is clear. The Palestinians must see a sovereign
state as a reachable goal and "the Israelis must understand that this [the
negotiating process] is not one stage in a continuing conflict. Israel can't be
allowed to think that peace only postpones the [next round] of the conflict."
That's a telling point and it is exactly on that issue that Egypt has a key
role to play in either reinforcing the momentum for peace or derailing it.
For all of the recent optimism, there are ominous clouds on the horizon.
Israeli military officials have been signaling that they see the current
truce being used by the Palestinians as an opportunity to rearm and reload before
starting the next intifada campaign of terror.
Of particular concern has been the wholesale smuggling of arms into Gaza from
Egypt via tunnels that run under the so-called Philadelphia corridor that
defines the border. Once Israel pulls out of Gaza, they fear that a new
Palestinian offensive will start in an attempt to duplicate what they believe to be
their success in pushing the Israelis out of Gaza.
The question is, is big brother Egypt guiding the Palestinians towards peace
or is it helping to let things slide back into chaos?
According to Fahmy, Egypt is committed to stopping the smuggling even though
he contends the problem is "exaggerated." And to back up that assertion, the
Egyptians are currently negotiating an agreement with Israel that will call
for them to police the border so Israel can safely pull out.
At the same time, rather than disband the Hamas and Islamic Jihad terror
groups, not to mention his own Al Aksa Martyrs Brigade, Palestinian President
Mahmoud Abbas is trying to co-opt them. Egypt has played a key role in that story
as well, hosting conferences between the Palestinian factions. And even though
the stated goal is a cease-fire, the result has been a legitimization of the
But the conflict is fueled by hatred as much as by explosives.
And Egypt's record here is shaky. Cairo has been a font of anti-Semitic
propaganda in recent years, with the broadcast of an odious multi-part drama based
on the fraudulent "Protocols of the Elders of Zion" being just the most
On that point, Fahmy is again reasonable, pointing out that his government,
though slow to act, did disassociate itself from the show and that one of
President Hosni Mubarak's top advisors publicly denounced hatred of Jews.
FALSE MORAL EQUIVALENCE
Fahmy is also quick to point to say that "both sides" are involved in
"demonizing" one another.
However the moral equivalence he posits on this issue, as well as on that of
violence, is a false one. The Israeli government is attempting to not only
make painful sacrifices for peace, but is educating its children to believe in
it. But a decade of Israeli concessions seems to have encouraged more contempt
for the Jewish state, not less.
The Palestinians, and much of the Arab world, continue to act as if Israel's
presence will eventually be extinguished either through armed struggle or
being swamped by the so-called "right of return." Fahmy's reassurances will mean
nothing unless the Palestinians change their tune.
And the last thing Jews need to do is to take his advice and call for
Washington to repeat past mistakes and become more directly involved in the
negotiations. Fahmy, who sees the actions of former President Jimmy Carter as the ideal
version of American diplomacy, says that "U.S. leverage must be used" to
bring about a solution.
The Palestinians are hoping that they can recreate the Oslo dynamic of
ceaseless American pressure on Israel to make concessions. But to do that is to take
the first step down the road to another few years of horrible violence.
What must happen is for Egypt and the rest of the Arab world to finally start
educating its people to accept Israelis, not hate them. And they must tell
the Palestinians that they must forget about trying to start up the war again
later this year.
The point is, if it were just a matter of peace with men like Nabil Fahmy,
the conflict might have ended decades ago. Peace with the cold-blooded killers
of Hamas is another thing altogether.