Egypt Pushes Palestinians on Peace

The new Egypt guided by relatively moderate Islamists of the Muslim Brotherhood is seeking a unity among Palestinian factions as a way to advance peace talks with Israel. The next question will be whether Israel and the United States welcome or spurn this initiative, writes ex-CIA analyst Paul R. Pillar.

By Paul R. Pillar

The Egyptian Muslim Brotherhood has undertaken an important initiative that is good not just for Egypt but also for Israel, the Palestinians, the United States and anyone else genuinely interested in Middle Eastern peace. It will be good for those interests, that is, if not subverted by reflexive rejection of doing business with Islamists or by a lack of genuine interest in a Palestinian-Israeli peace.

As described in a report by David Kirkpatrick in the New York Times, the Brotherhood is trying to work with both Hamas and Fatah to encourage reconciliation between the two parties, with the intention of having a single Palestinian interlocutor capable of representing all Palestinians while negotiating a peace settlement with Israel.

Palestinian leader Mahmoud Abbas

In making this initiative, the Egyptian Brotherhood has necessarily moved away from previous exclusive backing of Hamas, which began as a Palestinian offshoot of the Muslim Brotherhood, and more specifically from any approval of armed struggle against Israel and instead has opened up new channels to Fatah. Brotherhood leaders explain that a unified Palestinian leadership with the earnest backing of an Egyptian government offers the strongest possibility for meaningful peace talks with Israel.

The Brotherhood already claims some positive results, although how much is due to the Egyptian efforts and how much reflects moves Hamas was making on its own is unclear. After a senior Brotherhood leader urged Hamas to be more flexible in its talks with Fatah, Hamas agreed to having Fatah leader Mahmoud Abbas head a provisional Palestinian unity government.

To the extent the Egyptian influence is being felt, it helps to cement the positive effect that the exodus from Syria has had on the thinking and direction of Hamas’s external political leadership.

Several important developments are being demonstrated here. One is the Egyptian Brotherhood’s effort to act constructively and responsibly as it makes the transition from opposition movement to the largest element in a new Egyptian government. Brotherhood leaders describe what they are doing in exactly those terms.

One member who is now chairman of the Arab affairs committee in the upper house of the Egyptian parliament says, “Any movement of the size of the Muslim Brotherhood, when it is in the opposition it is one thing and then when it comes to power it is something completely different.”

Also being demonstrated is the Brotherhood’s commitment to maintaining Egypt’s own peace with Israel. Brotherhood leaders see this commitment as linked to Palestinian peace with Israel, just as Anwar Sadat once did. They say that peaceful coexistence between Israel and a Brotherhood-led Egypt can serve as a model for Hamas, provided Israel is willing to accept a fully independent Palestinian state. And indeed it can.

The current inclinations of Hamas itself are also being displayed. Cooperation with this initiative by Hamas’s Egyptian brethren complements and confirms the Palestinian group’s recent statements indicating its acceptance of coexistence with Israel on the basis of the 1967 borders.

It is hard to find anything not to like in any of this. The United States should find ways to applaud and encourage the course the Egyptian Brotherhood has set.

The biggest problem involves Israeli hang-ups. There is the overall Israeli dyspepsia over anything having to do with Islamists, which is why the Brotherhood’s political success has made Israel uncomfortable. More specifically is the Israeli refusal to have anything to do with Hamas (except prisoner exchanges) or even with a Palestinian government or authority including Hamas, no matter how much of the Palestinian political spectrum Hamas represents or what the group is saying or doing now.

On top of that are reasons to doubt whether the current Israeli government even wants to negotiate a two-state solution creating a truly independent Palestinian state, no matter who the Palestinian interlocutors are.

If Israeli inflexibility on these matters continues, the United States should make use of the Egyptian initiative to separate itself from that inflexibility. Political realities, especially during an election year, set well-known limits, but ways can certainly be found to applaud and encourage publicly what the Brotherhood is doing without appearing to interfere in Egyptian politics and maybe even without, for now at least, mentioning Hamas.

In private discussion with the Israelis, the United States should point out that if Israel is genuinely interested in a peace settlement with the Palestinians, what the Egyptian Brotherhood is doing is as good as it gets, especially coming from the biggest political actor in the biggest Arab state. If the Israelis are not genuinely interested in a settlement, a negative posture toward the Egyptian initiative will serve only to underscore to the world Israel’s responsibility for the impasse.

And if Mr. Netanyahu raises issues of Hamas’s past involvement in terrorism, he should be reminded that if the United States applied a once-a-terrorist-always-a-terrorist standard, it never would have had any dealings with some who have occupied the positions he does now of Israeli prime minister and leader of Likud.

Paul R. Pillar, in his 28 years at the Central Intelligence Agency, rose to be one of the agency’s top analysts. He is now a visiting professor at Georgetown University for security studies. (This article first appeared as blog post at The National Interest’s Web site. Reprinted with author’s permission.)

11 comments for “Egypt Pushes Palestinians on Peace

    April 1, 2012 at 00:35

    Thousands of Angry Egyptians Attack Coptic Christians and Burn Church While Screaming ‘Democracy Akbar’

    While mainstream media is busy promoting the notion that Egypt’s revolution is a peaceful and democratic one (e.g., here, here and here), the stubborn facts keep getting in the way. The latest exhibit: this troubling report from the Assyrian International News Agency.

    A mob of nearly four thousand Muslims has attacked Coptic homes this evening in the village of Soul, Atfif in Helwan Governorate, 30 kilometers from Cairo, and torched the Church of St. Mina and St. George. There are conflicting reports about the whereabouts of the Church pastor … and three deacons who were at church; some say they died in the fire and some say they are being held captive by the Muslims inside the church.

    Witnesses report the mob prevented the fire brigade from entering the village. The army, which has been stationed for the last two days in the village of Bromil, 7 kilometers from Soul, initially refused to go into Soul, according to the officer in charge. When the army finally sent three tanks to the village, Muslim elders sent them away, saying that everything was “in order now.”

  2. Judah The Lion
    March 30, 2012 at 20:44

    shows the ignorance and brainwashing of anti Israel propaganda and facist mentality:

    Confronting Anti-Israel Propaganda on a University Campus

    Talking with Palestinian and Muslim students after my lecture at the University of South Florida in Tampa on March 8th, I was pained (but not surprised) to hear their version of the conflict between Israel and the Palestinians. For them, history had no bearing on the present, Muslim terrorism was not a serious culprit, and it was Israel that was the evil force in the region.

    I had been invited to the university by a campus group in order to counter the presentations that would be made during an upcoming Israeli Apartheid Week. This event is now in its 8th year and is held on campuses across America and around the world with its stated purposes being “to educate people about the nature of Israel as an apartheid system and to build Boycott, Divestment, and Sanctions (BDS) campaigns as part of a growing global BDS movement.”

    Despite the fact that Israeli Apartheid Week does not aim for balance, I suggested to the campus group that invited me (called Ner Tamid) that we hold a debate on the relevant issues, allowing students to hear both points of view. Unfortunately, Ner Tamid was unable to find anyone willing to debate me, even though they ran a full-page ad in the student newspaper for one week, asking, “Who Will Debate the Israel-Palestine Issues?” The ad stated that, “Both sides will be able to present their viewpoints honestly and in a mutually respectful way,” also noting that, “We believe that with both sides represented fairly, everyone in attendance will receive a more complete understanding of the issues!” Still, there was no response.

    I then proposed that my lecture be followed by an open mike Q & A, but the night of the debate, I learned that university security was concerned with that format, meaning that we had to take written questions from the audience rather than have open mike interaction. So, when I finished my talk on, “Israel: An Evil Occupier?” I asked the audience to allow me to speak first with those who disagreed with me so we could interact face to face. The interaction was intense, though respectful, and quite enlightening.

    According to the Palestinian and Muslim students with whom I spoke, history has no bearing on the present conflict and Israel has no justification for its actions against the Palestinians. To give just a few examples, during the lecture, I quoted Middle Eastern scholars who pointed out that if the Arab leaders had accepted the United Nations partition plan in 1947, “Palestine would be celebrating its [64th] anniversary this May. And there would have been no Nakba,” the Arabic word for “catastrophe,” referring to the formation of modern Israel.

    A Palestinian woman who mocked this quote when I shared it during the lecture told me afterwards that yes, it was true that the Arabs did reject the two-state solution in 1947, attacking Israel in 1948 and 1956 and several times thereafter. But, she said, all that had no bearing on the current plight of the Palestinians.

    I discovered that none of the students I spoke with had ever heard of Hajj Amin Al-Husseini, the man responsible for much of the anti-Jewish sentiment in Palestine in the decades leading up to 1948 and a coworker of Hitler during World War II. And if they hadn’t heard of him, surely he could not have been important.

    I was told that the thousands of Kassam rockets fired by Hamas into Gaza were nothing but “firecrackers.” (This will surely be of no comfort to the family of four-year-old Afik Zahavi-Ohayon who was killed by one of those “firecrackers” when it landed in front of his nursery school in Sederot on June 8th, 2004, nor will it comfort the other victims of those “firecrackers”).

    I was also informed that the “security wall” was actually an Israeli “land grab.” The fact that it is almost entirely a fence (not a wall), that it was erected with the sole purpose of keeping out murderers, and that it only infringes on Palestinian territory for strategic safety purposes was dismissed out of hand.

    And my statement that Israeli Arabs have equal rights as citizens was openly scorned during and after the debate. This, of course, is a very important issue, since 1.5 million Arabs live in Israel today, making up 20% of the population. If Israel was an evil apartheid state (perhaps even guilty of ethnic cleansing), how does one account for these Arabs? I was told that, in fact, they are an oppressed minority, much like blacks in America in the days of segregation, with no freedom to differ with the government.

    What of the fact that they have been represented in the Knesset since 1948 and that they can make speeches in the Knesset railing against government policies? That an Israeli Arab is a permanent member of the Supreme Court? That the vast majority of Israeli Arabs surveyed have indicated that they would rather be under Israeli rule than Palestinian rule?

    This was completely irrelevant to one particular Palestinian interlocutor who told me that, in contrast with Israel’s oppression of its Arab population, I could find real freedom of speech at Birzeit University located near Ramallah. Perhaps they would welcome my lecture there?

    Michael Brown
    Michael Brown holds a Ph.D. in Near Eastern Languages and Literatures from New York University and is the author of 20 books. He has served as a professor at a number of seminaries and hosts the nationally syndicated, daily talk radio show, the Line of Fire.

  3. Judah The Lion
    March 30, 2012 at 16:36

    as usual the proarabist whitewash of homicide bombers and jihadists like the one in France killing a child at point blank range while videotaping it. Not a peep from you miserable S.O.B.’s. As usual Jewish blood is cheap and inconsequential.

  4. Judah The Lion
    March 27, 2012 at 17:11

    more arab and neo nazi drivel

    • John
      March 29, 2012 at 21:20

      With the ‘neo-nazi’ drivel Judah, are you talking about yourself? Can’t you people put yourselves in another persons shoes and consider if some outsiders (mostly Europeans) takes your land, you’re going to do all you can to retain your rights. It happened in North America, but in that case 90% of the native populations died from Smallpox and they didn’t have the manpower or the weapons. Likewise with the Spanish over the Inca in Peru.
      Israel is no saint, just as other European settler movements weren’t, but this is the 20th and 21st centuries we are talking about now, news travels fast today. We are far more aware of what horrible things are going on. Before Cast Lead, Israel and Hamas had a truce, but the day it was signed Israel was already planning Cast Lead. The number of rockets into Israeli airspace had dropped enormously but there were just the occassional one from other smaller groups against Hamas orders. Hamas wanted the truce extended, but the day before it terminated, Israel attacked Gaza from the air killing and wounding several members of Hamas and so Cast Lead became reality.
      Of the Palestinian casualties, 60% WERE CHILDREN, WHITE PHOSPHOROUS was used (causes severe burns when in contact with moisture, ie human tissue – from which it is hard to remove as it goes deeper and deeper (try it, you might like it)) besides other nasty weapons. If you regard that as civilized, to subject a densely populated area to that abuse, to deprive the people of good water, food, markets for their goods while taking their land from the West Bank, then you are well on your way to becoming what you call others.
      Do you seriously believe that your god (not a universal God) told Hebrews 3,000 years ago to kill every man woman and child to take land promised to them. And is belief in that story, a deed of ownership, “I believe therefore …..”??
      The grass always looks greener in the other guys yard to you lot. Grow up like many other Jewish people have, and free yourself of all this negativity. Jews, Christians, and Muslims lived in peace there before Zionism and a Greater Israel stirred the pot. Now Jewsih settler fanatics have painted on a Christian church, something like “Jesus’s mother Mary the whore”, and damaged cars in the lot not realizing the cars owners owners were Jews at a nearby synagogue. The church allowed them to share the lot. Speaks loudly that one. What would Christian fundamentalist think eh?
      I hope you can get some good councilling there Judah the Pussy Cat, sorry Judah the Lion. Is that an image builder, Lion? Roar! I’m shaking.

  5. rosemerry
    March 27, 2012 at 15:56

    “if Israel is genuinely interested in a peace settlement with the Palestinians”
    this is the crux. Why would they, when their methods now work so well? The “Iron Dome” stopped homemade Gaza rockets, so now they can resist retaliation from Iran!! The USA will provide plenty of arms, Germany gives submarines, the whole EU accepts the destruction of Palestinian projects it pays for eg solar panels.
    Hamas is called terrorist, but Zionism never seems called to account. The Irgun and Stern Gang, terrorists all, later were accepted as political players. Why not Hamas, first formed with Israel’s help, after all.
    If the USA ever escapes Zionist control, these good suggestions may be implemented.

  6. Judah The Lion
    March 27, 2012 at 12:59

    The usual antisemitic nonsense from two famous medievalists. Remember that the “Palestinians” turned down 90% of what they asked for in the Camp David talks brokered by President Clinton. I guess Arafat didn’t want to give up that 100K per month apt. in Paris. The response over the years has been numerous homicide bombings, 12,000 rockets shot into Israel, and the destruction of Israel in the Hamas charter. Every time there’s been a land for peace deal, Israel suffers.

    • rosemerry
      March 27, 2012 at 15:49

      Why don’t you just read the 99% of MSM that are zionist controlled? You repeat lies here that we all know. Camp David? Look again. You think Palestinians need not to exist?
      Bombings? check out the figures. Read and learn from these decent sites eg If Americans Knew , My Catbird Seat, Redress Information and Analysis.

  7. Hillary
    March 27, 2012 at 12:17

    American Administrations called for elections in the Arab world and Palestinians elected Hamas whereupon Israel followed by the USA deemed Hamas terrorist.

    Since then many Hamas leaders and other Palestinians have been assassinated by Israel.

    All Israeli peace initiaves are accompanied by a refusal to cease their theft of Arab land for Jewish Settlements.

    Seems like Israel speaks “with forked tongue” and with American support.

    Disturbing Quotes From Leading Zionists

    “Israel possess several hundred atomic warheads and rockets and can launch them at targets in all directions, perhaps even at Rome. Most European capitals are targets…We have the capacity to take the world down with us.”
    — Dr. Marvin Crevald
    Hebrew University
    (Associated Press, 2006)

  8. Mark Thomason
    March 27, 2012 at 11:16

    As to the “next question” the Israeli will spurn it. They don’t want peace yet. They have not finished expanding and expelling.

    If the US is guided by AIPAC in this, as it has been for decades now, then it two will spurn this.

    However, that is not what Obama wants. He has made plain his desires if able to be independent. So the real question will turn on Obama’s ability to be independent after November. Congress would still be in thrall to AIPAC, and it is likely we will be ear deep in a new war with Iran started by Israel into which we will be trapped, both of which will be serious constraints.

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