With Mubarak's absence from the Washington Summit, Egypt shows its disapproval for the emptiness of "peace politics".
President Hosni Mubarak's decision not to attend the Washington Summit means only one thing: other heads of state, and particularly the US president, were unable to convince him that there is a light glimmering at the end of the Washington tunnel. Mubarak's well-known support for the peace process, his deep involvement in the Israeli-Palestinian negotiations, the risks he has taken to promote an Arab-Israeli settlement, and his commitment to keeping Egypt at the center of events in the region, make it clear that his decision not to attend was based on the conclusion that Netanyahu and Clinton have neither the desire not the will to deal with the obstacles to peace in the Middle East.
Mubarak has no interest in participating in side-shows that may help Netanyahu show the Israelis that recent events will not prevent him from doing business as usual with Arab leaders. Nor is he interested in joining Clinton's election campaign. Had the messages and telephone calls made by both the US president and the Israeli prime minister during the past few days allowed Mubarak any hope for substantive progress towards peace in the area, the situation may well have been different. In fact, only promises - and vague ones at that - were made.
Recent events, as bloody as they have been, were only the tip of the iceberg. Bitterness at the Israeli and US approach to the entire peace process, which placed Israeli wishes (not necessarily interests) above the cause of peace in the region, runs deep and strong. The aftermath of the Sharm El Sheikh Summit was probably responsible for this disenchantment. In calling for this summit, Egypt made every effort to bring 14 Arab states to accept not only peace with Israel but also the possibility of cooperation within a regional framework to guarantee Israeli security. Israeli policy regarding the Palestinians and Lebanon, and US support for this policy, however, have made it well-nigh impossible for Egypt to continue its efforts. The election of a right-wing government headed by a fanatic ideologue has made a reassessment of the peace process imperative. Netanyahu's sweeping declarations, trumpeted in both Israel and the US, have not made matters easier and have given no credence to the argument that the new Israeli leader could be acting pragmatically in light of domestic and international constraints.
Cairo's decision, nonetheless, was to give him the benefit of the doubt. In Egypt, the emphasis he placed on commitment to Israeli obligations under the Oslo Accords gave reason for comfort. Netanyahu's words, however, were not followed by deeds. Even his soft talk in Cairo was followed by harsh words of arrogance and intransigence. His series of negatives on the return of the Golan to Syria, a Palestinian state, Jerusalem, the withdrawal from Hebron and other issues, soon made it clear that Netanyahu is not in the regional peace business. His goal, it is now abundantly clear, is Israeli hegemony, whereby the entire region will submit to Israel's projects, agenda and policy. The US's stance, however, provokes even more anxiety, since it has failed to deliver on a process it was committed to sponsoring. In fact, the Clinton administration seemed more interested in cosmetic moves, like the meeting between Arafat and Netanyahu, than in real progress on the ground. The US elections and the concomitant fury has provided the Israeli premier with leverage that he intends to exploit to the full.
It would be myopic to presume that the Egyptian decision to attend the Washington meeting is only related to the events following Israel's insistence on opening the tunnel connecting the Western wall area to the Muslim quarter of old Jerusalem. The decision extends far beyond the tunnel incident, as important and sensitive as the latter is. It stems from the Egyptian conclusion that the Netanyahu government is doing nothing to fulfill its Oslo obligations concerning Hebron, further redeployment, and the final status. Meanwhile, the Egyptian government is by now quite aware that Israel is building new settlements and squeezing Palestinians out of Jerusalem.
Mubarak could not participate in a summit unless he was guaranteed an outcome that would put the peace process back on track. This guarantee was not offered. Mubarak was then faced with a difficult choice. He could attend and come back with yet more proclamations of good will and schedules of more meetings. But this message would not be received well in Egypt or the rest of the Arab world, especially after the Arabs closed their ranks last June in Cairo. Then again, Mubarak could attend and risk a confrontation that would wreak havoc at the conference and deepen the existing rift in Egyptian-US relations. Finally, he could opt not to attend at all thus minimizing friction with Washington while facilitating more serious attempts to rescue peace in the region. In choosing the last option, Mubarak made it clear it Israel and the US that Egypt must not be taken for granted while peace, Arab and Palestinian interests must be taken more seriously.
The following article was reprinted from theAl-Ahram Weekly, and was written by Abdel-Mineim Said. The writer is the director of the Al-Ahram Center for Political and Strategic Studies.
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