Should Sisi be elected as is generally assumed, he will have to decide whether to go along with the cold peace or to take the bold decision to promote cooperation with Israel for the greater benefit of both countries.
By ZVI MAZEL, JPOST
The peace treaty between Israel and Egypt turned 35 last month.
On the one hand it has weathered a succession of crises, on the other it never brought about the hoped for development in the relations between the two countries, let alone between Israel and the Arab world. In fact it led to Egypt being expelled from the Arab League, which transferred its seat from Cairo to Tunis.
The Egyptian establishment did not embrace the peace with open arms: then-foreign minister Ismail Fahmy – coincidentally the father of today’s foreign minister Nabil Fahmy – resigned in protest. And the people of Egypt never warmed to their Israeli neighbors. Relations were carried out at the governmental level. During his long rule, president Hosni Mubarak never tried to overcome the psychological, cultural and religious obstacles blocking the path to closer contacts.
And yet economic, cultural and scientific cooperation would have ensured stability in the region as well as progress and better living conditions; it would have been a magnet for foreign investments and technology to the great benefit of both countries. It might ultimately have brought other Arab countries to change their minds about Israel. Judging from recently published documents regarding the negotiations between Egyptians and Israelis in the years 1977-1979, this is precisely what president Anwar Sadat intended. “We have to find ways to show that we are more than good friends; our two peoples and our two religions have much in common,” he is quoted as saying.
Mubarak, who became president after having seen Sadat assassinated in October 1981, never tried to do more than “keep the peace as it was” – promoting relations with the United States while limiting contacts with Israel, leading to what became known as “the cold peace.” He was not in favor of large-scale economic and industrial cooperation but did let two major projects go through: the construction of an oil refinery in Alexandria and supplying natural gas to Israel. However important these two projects, conducted jointly by Egyptian and Israeli companies, were, they had nothing to do with the everyday life of the Egyptians and did not contribute to normalization between the countries.
This could be the reason they no longer exist. The refinery was sold to Kuwaiti interests; the gas supply was halted after the Sinai pipeline was blown up 14 times after the fall of Mubarak, while the Supreme Council of the Armed Forces vainly attempted to prevent the attacks. By that time supplying gas to Israel was seen by many as some form of the hated normalization, with Egypt being better off without it.