Forward Thinking

Makovsky on Egypt and Restarting the Peace Process

By J.J. Goldberg

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The website of Foreign Affairs magazine has a very useful interview with David Makovsky, fellow at the Washington Institute for Near East Policy, former Jerusalem Post editor, former Haaretz diplomatic correspondent and one of the smartest Middle East watchers in Washington, on the various uncertainties Israel faces right now. He notes that Israel and Egypt have been engaging in a lot of back-channel diplomacy in the last few days to try and keep the border quiet and maintain the peace. The danger, he says, is

that the public senses that, when there are elections, Islamist parties—led by the Muslim Brotherhood but not exclusively—could be a dominant political block in Egypt. That would mean that you would have a military that has had excellent relations with the Israelis but does not want to be in a confrontation with the public. Therefore, the political context for the Egyptian-Israeli military-to-military relations, which have been very good, are very much liable to deteriorate.

He’s surprisingly optimistic—or at least un-pessimistic—about the future of Israeli-Palestinian peace talks. President Obama’s speeches in May to Congress and AIPAC about Palestinian statehood based on the 1967 lines with swaps were a gesture toward the Palestinian, which made the Israelis uncomfortable. The administration is now trying to get the Europeans to match that with a parallel gesture to pressure the Palestinians, specifically working against the Palestinian statehood measure at the United Nations. The idea is to give Tony Blair space to produce a Quartet formula that allows peace talks to restart. The details Makovsky lays out are fascinating, not least the internal splits within the EU that are making the job difficult. And there’s this:

What has happened is that President Obama has paid a domestic political price for his Middle East speeches. He got virtually no support from Democrats in Congress. I think his view is: I’ve stepped up to the plate and paid the domestic political price, but where are the others? So we’re in this unusual situation where Tony Blair is the person trying to narrow the differences over the text. It probably demonstrates that until after next year’s presidential elections, the United States is not going to be leading the charge on the issue.

Also well worth the read: Al-Masry Al-Youm (Egypt Today), often regarded as Egypt’s most influential daily, interviews former Egyptian ambassador to Israel Mohamed Bassiouny about Egyptian-Israeli relations following the August 17 terror attack on the Eilat highway. Bassiouny argues that Israel’s army is better trained than Egypt’s and should play a more active role in securing the border. He also wants to see the treaty amended to let Egypt bring more troops into the peninsula to deal with the problems on its own side. The paper asks if he thinks Egypt should withdraw its ambassador from Israel right now to protest the deaths of Egyptian security personnel following the terrorist attacks. He thinks it’s a bad idea.


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