Monday, February 14, 2011

CMEP: Mubarak's out. Now on to the peace process?

Churches for Middle East Peace Bulletin
February 11, 2011
Mubarak's out. Now on to the peace process?
The web version of this bulletin has a load of embedded links:

Mubarak Falls
The recent political upheaval in Egypt culminated on Friday with the resignation of Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak, who turned over authority to the Egyptian military. Headed by Mohammed Hussein Tantawi, the military is now expected to oversee a process of transition until national elections are held next September.

Mubarak’s ouster was met with stark relief in Washington, which had been caught between its longtime financial and political support for Mubarak and its sympathy for the democratic aspirations of the protest movement. “This is an extraordinary moment for Egypt,” said Senate Foreign Relations Committee Chairman John Kerry. Meanwhile, Vice President Joe Biden, hailing Mubarak’s departure as a “pivotal moment,” insisted that “The transition that's taking place must be an irreversible change and a negotiated path toward democracy.”

Implications for Israel and Palestine
Although it’s still too soon to know just what effect Mubarak’s fall will have regionally, one thing is clear: it will not be without consequences for the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.

As discussed last week, the promise of a democratic Egypt has prompted newfound concerns within Israel. In particular, many Israelis fear that if an Islamist government were elected to power, it would not only destabilize the security of Egypt’s border with Gaza, but the new government could possibly unilaterally withdraw from the Camp David Accords, the peace agreement between Israel and Egypt that has served as a lynchpin of regional peace and stability for the past 30 years.

These fears, however, are likely unfounded.

For one, as a Newsweek report details, it’s not clear that the Muslim Brotherhood would actually come to power. Even more though, a violation of the Camp David Accords would have significant ramifications for Egypt’s already struggling economy. Breaking the peace agreement would jeopardize the nearly $2 billion in aid that the U.S. gives to Egypt annually, as well as the revenue Egypt generates from Israeli-Egypt trade -- one natural gas pipeline alone produces $300 million a year in revenues for Egypt, a figure that is expected to rise to $1 billion by 2015, according to the Christian Science Monitor. Thus, even if a new Egyptian government actually wanted to withdraw from its peace treaty, it’s not clear it would be willing to bear the significant financial and economic costs of doing so.

New Revelations about the Olmert-Abbas Negotiations
Rather than hindering peace in Israel and Palestine, the upheaval in Egypt may actually help.

In a featured article in this Sunday’s New York Times Magazine, author Bernard Avishai lays out just how close former Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Olmert and Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas were to a deal in 2008.

According to Avishai, whose article is based on extensive interviews with both Olmert and Abbas, the main roadblocks to piece – the demilitarization of the Palestinian state, the status of Jerusalem, and the right of return for Palestinian refugees -- all “proved susceptible to creative thinking.”

Where the talks broke down, according to Olmert, was the lack of leadership on the part of the United States -- all that was missing was sufficient pressure from the United States to “bridge the gaps.” With the region energized by Egypt’s transformation, the United States might find those gaps even narrower than in the past.

Quartet Meeting
As the drama unfolded in Egypt, the Middle East Quartet also met in Munich this week on February 5. Following the meeting, the Quartet released a statement saying that it had taken note “of the dramatic developments in Egypt” and that it had reiterated its support for the conclusion of Israeli-Palestinian negotiations by September 2011.

Moreover, the Quartet’s statement also expressed “regret” that Israel discontinued its 10-month moratorium on the construction of new housing in the settlements in the West Bank. By contrast, the statement praised President Abbas for his leadership and “continued Palestinian State-building efforts.”

Events surrounding the Quartet’s meeting were as significant as the meeting itself. On the same day that the Quartet released its statement, the Palestinian Authority, summarily rejected an economic aid package that had been proposed by Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and Quartet envoy Tony Blair just before the start of meeting in Munich. “The announcement by the Israeli government and the Quartet’s special envoy is totally unacceptable,” said the chief Palestinian negotiator Saeb Erakat. “We don’t believe in these measures, which are aimed solely at destroying confidence between Israelis and
Palestinians. If Netanyahu wants to establish mutual trust and peace, he must stop settlement-building in the West Bank and East Jerusalem” Erakat said.

Updates from CMEP
The CMEP staff welcomes the addition of two colleagues to our office this week. Alexandra Stevens is a graduate student at George Mason University and has studied abroad in the West Bank. She is interning with CMEP because she wants to continue learning about the conflict and finding new ways to advocate for peace. We’re also glad to welcome Chris Meserole, who studied religion and the Middle East at Yale, and writes about religion and foreign affairs for the Huffington Post. His Arabic is still pretty mangled, but he's working on it. Both Chris and Alexandra are wonderful additions to CMEP’s team.

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