Headlines, Human Rights, Middle East & North Africa

EGYPT: Camp David Accord Unacceptable to Many

Adam Morrow and Khaled Moussa Al-Omrani

CAIRO, Mar 30 2009 (IPS) - Egyptian and Israeli officials celebrated the anniversary of the Camp David peace agreement last week. The agreement normalised relations between the two former adversaries 30 years earlier on Mar. 26. Opposition leaders, however, are calling for a suspension of the treaty, which they say fails to serve Egyptian interests.

“The terms of the agreement infringe on Egypt’s national sovereignty and diminish its ability to defend itself,” Abdelhalim Kandil, political analyst and prominent opposition journalist told IPS. “By calling for the suspension of Camp David, we’re merely calling for a restoration of Egyptian sovereignty.”

Amid much fanfare on Mar. 26, 1979, Egyptian president Anwar Sadat and Israeli prime minister Menachem Begin signed the peace accord on the White House lawns in the presence of U.S. President Jimmy Carter. “We have won at last the first step of peace – a first step on a long and difficult road,” Carter said at the time.

Along with returning the Sinai Peninsula – captured by Israel in 1967 – to Egyptian sovereignty, the Camp David agreement activated diplomatic relations between Egypt and Israel. Despite fierce Arab and domestic opposition, the treaty made Cairo the first Arab capital to recognise the self- proclaimed Jewish state since the latter’s establishment in 1948.

In the years since, the only other Arab country to establish full diplomatic relations with Israel has been the Hashemite kingdom of Jordan, which signed its own bilateral peace deal in 1994. The remaining 21 member states of the Arab League continue to insist that diplomatic normalisation with Israel come only within the context of an “equitable” settlement of the longstanding Israel-Palestine conflict.

After three decades of official peace, the notion of cooperation with Israel – given its rough treatment of the Palestinian population – remains broadly unpopular on the Egyptian street.

Critics of Camp David justify their position by pointing to a litany of violations by Israel of both international law and universally recognised human rights conventions. Violations include the ongoing siege of the Gaza Strip, uninterrupted settlement building on occupied Arab land, frequent assassinations of Palestinian resistance activists, and unconcealed efforts to purge Jerusalem of its non-Jewish, that is, Palestinian inhabitants.

Israel’s recent three-week-long onslaught against the Hamas-run Gaza Strip reinforced Egyptian perceptions of Israel as a ruthless aggressor. In that conflict, Israel was widely blamed for indiscriminate use of force as well as the use of illegal weapons such as white phosphorous, that resulted in the death of more than 1,400 Palestinians, the vast majority of them civilians.

“For these reasons, the Egyptian public rejects not only Camp David but any kind of peace agreement with Israel,” Gamal Mazloum, expert in military affairs and retired Egyptian army general told IPS.

In contrast to the ruling National Democratic Party of President Hosni Mubarak, virtually all of Egypt’s main opposition parties stand against the accord and the formal relationship with Israel stipulated therein.

“We refused the peace treaty from day one and we still do,” Mohamed Habib, deputy head of the Muslim Brotherhood, Egypt’s largest opposition movement, stated recently. “There can be no recognition of the Zionist entity as long as it continues to occupy Arab and Muslim land.”

Along with the Brotherhood, Egypt’s secular opposition parties also firmly oppose Camp David. “The agreement has lost any of the popular support it might once have had,” said Kandil.

Kandil said the treaty puts unreasonable restrictions on Egypt, both politically and in terms of national security.

“Politically, it forces Egypt to fully normalise relations with Israel regardless of the circumstances. And on a security level, it demands that the Sinai Peninsula be largely demilitarised.”

The terms of the agreement divide the Sinai Peninsula into three parts, including a fully demilitarised zone – Area A – which extends roughly 30 kilometres from the border with Israel and the Gaza Strip. According to the treaty, Egypt is allowed to deploy no more than 750 lightly armed border police in the area.

After the Israeli pullout from the Gaza Strip in 2005, Egypt – anxious to secure its border with the volatile enclave – requested permission to increase its border forces to a total of 3,500. Israel, citing security concerns, turned down the request.

“These limitations put Egypt at risk by degrading its ability to defend itself from attack,” said Kandil. “Given the current disposition of forces, Israel could occupy the entire peninsula in less than 24 hours if it wanted to.”

He went on to say that in Sinai the agreement’s conditions “serve to turn Egypt into a prisoner while elevating Israel to the role of prison warden.”

“Sharm el-Sheikh, for example, in Area A, cannot receive air traffic without prior Israeli consent,” Kandil said. “This means that if President Mubarak came under threat while in Sharm – even a domestic threat – Egyptian authorities would have to receive Israel’s permission before entering the area to come to his aid.”

Mazloum, howver, says the peace agreement’s terms have no adverse effect on Egypt’s defensive capacity.

“The numbers now deployed along the border are sufficient to meet with any military attack or aggression,” he said. “Besides, modern warfare – which relies largely on air power – has drastically reduced dependence on ground forces.”

According to Mazloum, Egypt’s recent requests for additional border deployments were not made for defensive purposes, but to thwart an “Israeli-U.S. plan” to permanently resettle Palestinians of the Gaza Strip in the Sinai Peninsula.

“Egypt asked for more troops at the border to avert the implementation of this longstanding objective,” he said. “The requested increase was to prevent a sudden influx of Palestinians into Sinai, as happened last year.”

In January 2008, an estimated half million Palestinians flocked into northern Sinai from the besieged Gaza Strip in order to stock up on essential supplies following the partial destruction of the border fence. The frontier was re- sealed ten days later amid limited clashes between Palestinians and Egyptian authorities.

On Mar. 30, a Cairo court is reportedly scheduled to hear a lawsuit raised by independent MP Mohamed Al-Omda calling for suspension of the Camp David agreement. Kandil, however, doubts the court will rule to shelve – or even amend – the peace accord, despite its broad unpopularity.

“I don’t think the court will rule against the treaty,” said Kandil. “And even if it does, the government won’t implement the ruling because the government never implements policies that might negatively affect its relationship with Israel.

“In the meantime, though, the opposition will step up calls for a popular referendum – held under international supervision – on whether or not to renew Camp David,” he added. “If such a vote were ever taken, I’m sure this odious agreement would be soundly rejected by the people.”

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