Now it’s Egypt’s turn to ramp up the rhetoric against Israel, apparently following Turkey’s lead. Egypt’s Prime Minister Essam Sharaf declared on Thursday that the historic Camp David peace accords between Israel and Egypt are “not a sacred thing”.
Dramatically heightening tensions during an increasingly volatile time in Israel’s relations with the Arab world, Essam Sharaf’s suggestions that the 32-year treaty could be revised prompted disbelief in the Jewish state.
“The Camp David agreement is not a sacred thing and is always open to discussion with what would benefit the region and the case of fair peace,” Mr Sharaf told Turkish television. “We could make a change if needed.”
Coming just days after an angry mob stormed the Israeli embassy in Cairo, Israeli officials said they were staggered more by the timing of Mr Sharaf’s comments than their actual content. “Less than a week ago, we had the problem with the embassy,” an Israeli official said. “I don’t think a responsible prime minister should say things like that.”
Israel has spoken of its determination to defuse tensions with Egypt in the wake of last week’s embassy raid.
Until yesterday, Egypt’s transitional military leadership had responded in kind, insisting that it wanted to uphold the Camp David accords, whose historic agreement in 1978 is widely seen as ending the cycle of Israeli-Arab wars that erupted in the preceding 30 years.
But, in the wake of the popular revolution that overthrew Hosni Mubarak, the former president, in February, Egypt’s present crop of transitional leaders have been forced to take into account the view of ordinary Egyptians, many of whom remain deeply suspicious of Israel.
Mr Mubarak, by contrast, assiduously upheld the treaty with Israel, even assisting in imposing an Israeli blockade on the Gaza Strip, which has a border with Egypt.
Public anger towards the Jewish state mounted after Israeli troops in pursuit of suspected militants inadvertently shot dead five Egyptian border guards, leading to last Friday’s riot at the embassy.
Of course, not a mention why those border guards were shot dead. Nothing to do with 8 Israelis being killed in a terrorist attack emanating from Egypt? Perhaps the Israelis should riot and demand apologies from Egypt.
In the aftermath of the revolution, a number of civilian politicians likely to contest presidential elections in Egypt at the end of the year have said they want to revise “humiliating” aspects of the treaty with Israel.
I’m sure Israel would like to be humiliated like that – receiving a vast swathe of land captured in a war, including oil fields and well-developed tourist resorts. Oh, the shame!
In particular, they want the right to take fuller economic and military control of the Sinai region, which Israel occupied after the Six Day War of 1967 but handed back after the peace treaty of 1979, signed a year after the meeting at Camp David brokered by then US president Jimmy Carter.
Israeli officials in private say such demands are not unreasonable, and could even be beneficial given the growing lawlessness of the Sinai region. But the phrasing of Mr Sharaf’s comments, particularly that the treaty is not “scared”, is seen as incendiary.
“Others who have said this kind of thing have been presidential candidates but this is the prime minister – that is what is disturbing,” the Israeli official said. “He should be more careful.”
By making his comments to Turkish television, Mr Sharaf appeared to be attempting to burnish his populist credentials.
He spoke just after Prime Minister Erdogan had completed a visit to Egypt.
And that explains the whole Middle East mess in a nutshell. Each leader or dictator needs to prove that he is stronger and more Arab nationalist than the next one. How better to do it than display his anti-Israel credentials? What’s more, whipping up the masses into hysterical anti-Israel pogroms distracts them from their miserable reality of grinding poverty, government corruption and the general backwardness of their societies. It’s a win-win situation for these dictators. Who cares if they set the Middle East on fire? “Après moi le deluge” seems to be their motto.
In reaction to these destabilizing noises emanating from Egypt, Israel’s Foreign Ministry summoned the Egyptian ambassador and told him in no uncertain terms that renegotiating the peace treaty was a non-starter.
Ynet has learned that on Friday the Egyptian Ambassador to Israel Yasser Reda, was summoned to a meeting at the Foreign Ministry where he was told that “under no circumstances would the peace treaty be reopened for negotiation”.
During the meeting, senior Foreign Ministry officials expressed their anger over statements made by senior officials in the Egyptian government in connection with the possibility of re-opening the Camp David peace treaty to negotiation.
The Israeli officials made it clear that the option was not on the cards. On Thursday Egyptian Prime Minister Essam Sharaf said the treaty needed to be reopened.
The 30 minute meeting was conducted by Rafi Barak, the Director General of the Foreign Ministry. He stressed that “From Israel’s perspective, there are no intentions whatsoever to reopen the peace treaty and the step cannot be taken unilaterally.”
He noted that “in light if the troubling statements, and in light of the importance we ascribe to Israel-Egypt relations, we are deeply concerned over the declarations made by senior Egyptian officials. I oppose these statements, a change in the tone and trust between the two sides is essential to the relationship.”
Even though the Camp David accords allow for each clause fo the treaty to be renegotiated at teh request of one of the parties, Israel’s foreign ministry said:
“The relations between our two nations must also find expression in statements and leaders must show responsibility. The recent statements lead to the opposite, the height of which we witnessed in the attempt to harm the embassy in Cairo,” Barak added.