||Executive Intelligence Review, May 11, 2001 Internet Edition
Egypt's Mubarak Makes
by Muriel Mirak-Weissbach
Bid for Mideast Peace
No one is more acutely aware of the danger of general war sparked by the Middle East conflict, than Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak, and it is for this reason that he has launched a desperate effort to prevent it. Mubarak visited Washington at the beginning of April, followed by Jordanian King Abdallah II, and presented a joint Egyptian-Jordanian peace initiative. President George W. Bush did not take it up, and instead made clear that he would continue backing Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon, and his drive for war.
The plan calls for implementation of the Sharm el-Sheikh agreements of October 2000, and the restoration of the status quo as of September 2000. This means, Israel must lift the military, financial, and economic blockade, as well as the blockade of trade and food supply to the West Bank, Jerusalem, and Gaza. It specifies that the "use of internationally forbidden weapons must be excluded," and that Israel must withdraw "troops, tanks, armored vehicles, and weapons from the positions in Palestinian cities, villages, and refugee camps," to return to their September 2000 positions. All outstanding Israeli debts to Palestinian Authority are to be released.
Confidence-building measures are outlined in the proposal, in those items already contained in treaties signed by both sides, but not implemented; for example, freezing settlements, protecting Islamic and Christian holy sites, and implementing security duties on both sides. Finally, the plan foresees a revival of negotiations, to address all the agenda items not yet solved, from Jerusalem, to the Palestinian refugees, to settlements, security and so forth. The joint proposal calls on the European Union and the General Secretariat of the UN, to join Egypt and Jordan in promoting the initiative. The proposal is sound, and, if implemented, could perhaps stop the carnage and reverse the momentum for war. The problem is, who is going to force it through?
On April 23, Mubarak decided to travel to Europe and Russia, instead of sending his Foreign Minister, as planned, to seek support. In remarks to Germany's Der Spiegel magazine prior to his departure, Mubarak continued to appeal to the United States, saying, "America has huge self-interests in the Middle East and the Arab world, to protect. If Washington gave Sharon a free hand, then Bush would damage his own interests and his friends. In the end, Israel would be damaged." Yet, he did not conceal his concern that Sharon would not be stopped; although the Egyptian leader had initially given Sharon the benefit of the doubt, he said, "Since then, I have the impression that [Sharon] is counting only on violence. He wants to force the Palestinians to bend to his demands."
Mubarak stressed the point, that the current Israeli government has simply ripped to shreds all agreements, and international law. "Israel today controls de facto 80% of the West Bank and Israeli tanks enter Zone A, which, according to the agreements signed by both sides, no Israel security organs, much less the army, have anything to do there. Undeniably Israel is violating international law and the decisions of the international community."
As to the possibility that Israel might assassinate Palestinian leader Yasser Arafat, "That would be a crime with unforeseeable consequences--far more than a political error. Yasser Arafat is still the most popular Palestinian. His assassination would lead to bloody chaos and push the entire region into catastrophe."
Mubarak took the opportunity of April 25, which is Sinai Liberation Day in Egypt, to broadcast his evaluation and warnings in a televised interview, taped before he left the country. The holiday commemorates the return to Egypt in 1982, through Camp David-related negotiations, of land seized by Israel in the 1967 war.
In his address, Mubarak accused Israel of escalating tensions, and warned of a widening conflict, in unusually harsh terms. "The unjustifiable, grave military escalation by the Israeli government did not stop at the policy of repression and a war of genocide, siege, and starvation of the Palestinian people, but it went on to military aggression against Lebanon and Syria, attached to cries of war and threats." He went on, "This aggressive behavior carries within itself dangerous risks to all the peoples of the region, including the Israeli people, and threatens the stability and security of the region, because violence will only breed more violence."
Reception in Europe
In Berlin, Mubarak was received by Foreign Minister Joschka Fischer and former Foreign Minister Hans-Dietrich Genscher (now head of the German-Egyptian Society), and had lengthy, private talks with Chancellor Gerhard Schröder. As he had indicated in his interview, there were no bilateral problems to discuss, but "I consider it necessary, to discuss with him the burning situation in the Middle East. For, were it to come to an explosion, we would all be affected--Israelis and Arabs as well as Germans, other Europeans and Americans." His demand was unequivocal: Germany, which has a special relationship to Israel, and represents a motor force in Europe, should use its influence to return the Middle East to a peace perspective. Mubarak asked Schröder to mediate in the Palestinian-Israeli conflict. The German response, predictably, was "Nein, Danke." Fischer told the press following the talks, "The powers of the Federal Republic should not be overestimated," and rejected the offer. He added, routinely, that Germany would be prepared, however, to contribute in the context of the European Union (EU).
The EU, meanwhile, was giving signals of growing irritation with Sharon's "excessive force" against the Palestinians, and reports indicated that, at a May 21 meeting, the EU could decide to respond, by cancelling various trade agreements with Israel, and suspending the Association Agreement. Belgian Foreign Minister Louis Michel, part of the EU troika, travelled to the region in an attempt to break some ground, and, after viewing the destruction wrought at the Palestinian refugee camp at Han Younis, expressed his view, that such Israeli actions were utterly unacceptable, especially considering that they were perpetrated by the same people who had been victims of such violence 50 years ago. Michel was virtually saying, that the Sharon regime was acting like the Nazis.
Mubarak's next stop was Bucharest, where he met President Ion Iliescu. Romania enjoys good relations with Israel. Iliescu told a press conference following the talks, that the two countries "have good relations with both sides involved in the conflict, and expressed his determination to convince them to find a negotiated solution." Both stressed the fact that only negotiations can yield results, and that continued violence will only worsen the crisis.
Talks With Putin
Finally, on April 26, the Egyptian President arrived in Moscow, for three days of extensive talks with several government representatives, beginning with President Vladimir Putin. The talks concentrated on the Middle East conflict, and how Russia can intervene to help solve the crisis. It was not only the Palestinian-Israeli conflict that was discussed, but also Iraq; Russia is leading initiatives to lift the sanctions against the country. The agenda included the signing of a Declaration of Friendship and Cooperation, which was to detail a long-term program. Sergei Prikhodko, Deputy Presidential Chief of Staff, told the press that Russia and Egypt were prepared to work on "big projects," in trade, economy, scientific research, and technology. Furthermore, they were to discuss cooperation "in nuclear power engineering and in the military sphere," i.e., that Russia would update arms and military hardware used by the Egyptian Army, since the times of the Soviet Union.
What concretely resulted from the Egyptian-Russian talks, was a Russian statement of encouragement to the Egyptian-Jordanian initiative. It is clear, that if anything is to prevent the worst-case scenario from unfolding, it will be a forceful move, made jointly by Russia, the Europeans, Egypt, and Jordan. As of the beginning of May, Israeli Foreign Minister Peres was travelling to the U.S., with the Israeli government giving out signals of negotiating over the Egyptian plan; but according to both Ha'aretz and Ma'ariv, Israeli newspapers, this is simply an attempt to get Yasser Arafat to stand down, while Sharon continues with his reoccupation and settlement-expansion policies. On May 1, Mubarak appeared on Egyptian television, denouncing that Peres had told him there was a cease-fire and "begged him" to announce it, when on contacting Arafat, Mubarak found that there was no such agreement.
Whatever the outcome, it is also clear that the Bush-Sharon drive toward Middle East catastrophe, is having the effect of coalescing this alliance of European, Russian, and Arab forces, against both.