Israeli alarm over treaty with Egypt grows

April 4, 2012 at 3:12 PM
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CAIRO, April 4 (UPI) -- Israel's concerns that its historic peace treaty with Egypt could be in peril amid the political upheaval in Cairo have intensified with the announcement by the Islamist Muslim Brotherhood it will contest presidential elections next month.

Amos Gilad, a top aide to Israeli Defense Minister Ehud Barak and a former Israeli liaison with Cairo, said Tuesday he was apprehensive that the Muslim Brotherhood, which already dominates Parliament, could suspend or abrogate the 33-year-old peace pact.

The treaty, the first between Israel and its Arab adversaries, has been the linchpin of U.S. policy in the Middle East since it was sealed and scrapping it could accelerate the unraveling of U.S. strategy that has been taking place for some years now.

Gilad's comments underlined deepening Israeli fears that its current international isolation, the result of Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu's refusal to make concessions to bolster the moribund peace process, will be increased at a time when it is locked in a war of nerves with Iran over its nuclear program.

"I'm not hiding from you that we're concerned," Gilad told the Jerusalem Center for Public Affairs, a conservative think tank.

"The leaders of the Muslim Brotherhood keep declaring, 'We're committed to this peace.' I'm not so sure."

The Muslim Brotherhood, he said, "have a dream to establish an Islamic empire at the expense of Egypt. Israel is excluded anyway."

The Israelis have been worrying that the peace treaty was in danger since Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak was forced to step down Feb. 11, 2011, amid a pro-democracy uprising against his 40-year dictatorship.

Mubarak was one of the treaty's staunchest supporters because it made him a key U.S. ally that brought Egypt billions of dollars in U.S. aid.

However, the U.S.-brokered peace treaty is immensely unpopular in Egypt, which has been defeated by Israel in four wars. A provision that limits Egyptian military forces in the Sinai Peninsula to a few hundred personnel is particularly hated and is considered a national insult.

U.S. aid to Egypt is guaranteed under the Camp David Accords and if that's scrapped or seriously threatened the funds would be cut off.

The Muslim Brotherhood has warned it would consider changing the treaty if U.S. aid was halted.

Washington threatened to do just that in March after Egyptian authorities apprehended 43 activists, including 19 Americans, working with non-governmental civil society organizations. The Americans were later freed.

The Muslim Brotherhood, founded in Egypt by radical schoolteacher Hassan al-Banna in 1928, has been the godfather of just about every militant Islamist group in the Arab world over the last eight decades.

It was outlawed under Mubarak, but has risen to power over the last year and, with its Islamist allies, emerged as the dominant force in Parliament in the first elections since Mubarak's downfall.

It also has a strong presence on a panel that will draft a new constitution.

The Muslim Brotherhood's been saying for months, with little ambiguity, it wouldn't stand a candidate in the presidential elections, apparently for fear of provoking a backlash by Egypt's interim military rulers.

But Saturday it announced its deputy leader, Khairet al-Shater would run, a bold and surprising move that many in the movement oppose even though it would give the Muslim Brotherhood power for the first time in its 84-year history.

Some Muslim Brotherhood leaders have said that as members of the governing party they would honor the peace pact with Israel but that seems to be contingent on Israel moving toward accepting the creation of an independent Palestinian state in the West Bank and the Gaza Strip.

That's not seen as likely under Netanyahu's Likud-led right-wing coalition, which has resisted all U.S., European and U.N. pressure to halt Jewish settlement construction and eventually relinquish the West Bank.

The Muslim Brotherhood's supreme guide, Mohammed Badie, is reported to have told Hamas' political chief, Khaled Meshaal, to be "more flexible" in dealing with Israel to breathe some life into the fading peace process.

This suggests that there are those within the Muslim Brotherhood leadership who wouldn't seek to abrogate the peace treaty -- at least not in the foreseeable future, which isn't much in Cairo these turbulent days -- while the movement concentrates on consolidating its political power in Egypt and getting the turbulent country back on its feet.

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