Last week, in a New York Times interview, Egyptian President Mohamed Morsi said  that if Washington was asking Egypt to honor its treaty with Israel, Washington  should also live up to its own Camp David commitment to Palestinian  self-rule

Lately, in his speech at the General Assembly of the United  Nations, the Palestinian cause was given priority even over the bleeding  conflict in Syria

These statements raise concerns for three reasons:  First, they imply that adherence to the treaty with Israel is some kind of  concession toward the US that needs to be matched by US steps in favor of the  Palestinians. I would think that adhering to the treaty is in Egypt’s own  self-interest

After all, under this treaty Israel withdrew from the Sinai  Peninsula and recognized Egypt’s full sovereignty over it

International  law, justice and dignity, principles often mentioned in Mr. Morsi’s  speech, demand that Egypt not hold the territorial gains achieved in the peace  treaty while disavowing its obligations under it. True, the Camp David Accords,  which laid the foundations for the peace treaty, were not limited to achieving  peace between Egypt and Israel but rather drew up a framework for peace in the  Middle East, the West Bank and Gaza included

However, the treaty  unequivocally states that the parties undertake to fulfill in good faith their  obligations under it, without regard to action or inaction of any other party  and independently of any instrument external to this treaty. Creating a linkage  between obligations under the peace treaty and external obligations towards the  Palestinians is legally flawed

Second, looking at the Camp David  principles for a peaceful settlement of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, one  may wonder what Mr. Morsi found missing. The framework envisioned a transitional  period during which the inhabitants of the West Bank and the Gaza Strip would  elect a self-governing authority and receive autonomy, while Israeli military  forces withdraw and redeploy to specified security locations.
Later,  negotiations on the final status of these territories should have been  conducted

Indeed, this framework, designed in 1978, was not implemented  for many years. Different opinions may exist as to whom to blame. However,  looking at the Oslo Accords and the Israeli- Palestinian interim agreements,  signed by Israel and the PLO in 1993 to 1995, one finds the same principles as  prescribed in the Camp David Accords. A Palestinian elected authority was  established, received powers and self-governed the Palestinians while the  Israeli forces did withdraw from the Palestinian population centers to specified  locations

As to the final status negotiations, several rounds of talks  were held over the years with little success and much bloodshed in between.  Nowadays, Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu has reiterated his willingness to  negotiate on the final status with PLO leader and PA chairman Mahmoud Abbas, without any  pre-conditions. There is no dispute that Mr. Abbas refuses to negotiate unless  Israel freezes all settlement activity in the West Bank

Indeed, one may  consider growth in Israeli settlements in the West Bank an impediment to peace,  but the Palestinians have agreed that the issue of Israeli settlements will be  resolved with other major issues in the permanent status  negotiations. The interim agreement does not stipulate it as a  pre-condition for negotiating, nor do the Camp David  Accords

Furthermore, Netanyahu has declared, in a speech at Bar-Ilan  University in 2009, that under certain conditions, Israel will agree to the  establishment of a Palestinian state. This is more than the Israeli government  was willing to pledge to in the Camp David Accord

Third, and probably  the most worrying facet revealed by the interview, as well as by the speech in  the General Assembly, is that the elected president of Egypt seems consistently  to refuse to address Israel or Israelis directly

In his victory speech,  he said Egypt would respect all its international agreements, but refrained from  mentioning Israel

Later, there was the strange affair of the exchange of  letters Morsi conducted with President Shimon Peres. After the elections  in Egypt president Peres sent a letter congratulating Morsi and adding greetings  for the approaching Muslim month of Ramadan. The Israeli press reported that Mr.  Morsi sent a reply letter, wishing stability and security to all the nations in  the region, including Israel – but the Egyptian president’s spokesperson denied  such a letter existed

Peres’s office then released the cover letter  attached to Mr. Morsi’s letter by the Egyptian embassy in Israel, and the letter  itself. The troubling question is why Mr. Morsi found it necessary to deny even  the exchange of season’s greetings with Israel. With all the “bad blood” between  them, even Mr. Abbas had sent such greeting to his Israeli  counterparts

Moreover, why doesn’t Mr. Morsi even say the word “Israel” in  public, even when it is clear he is talking about Israel? One may suspect that  this has something to do with the Muslim Brotherhood’s traditional ideology not  recognizing Israel’s right to exist as a Jewish state in the predominantly  Muslim region. Avoiding calling Israel by its self-determined and  internationally recognized name is an extreme manifestation of non-recognition.  Iran does it explicitly calling Israel “the Zionist entity” but one did hope  that among moderate Arab countries this practice would be outdated

Mr. Morsi  has a vast mission addressing Egypt’s internal problems. If he has decided to  postpone any reference to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict so he can focus on  Egypt, that would be understandable. However, if Egypt’s newly elected president  wishes to regain the leading role his country had in the Middle East peace  process, he should speak to Israelis, not about Israel. Mr. Morsi should assure the  Israeli public that although he is a devout Muslim, he does not share the  Islamic Republic of Iran’s declared aspiration to wipe Israel off the  map

Egypt is the biggest Arab state. If Mr. Morsi uses his position and the  esteem he has in the eyes of Muslims to bring the Palestinians to the  negotiation table, while gaining the trust of the Israeli public, he may make  his mark in history

This article was published in the Jerusalem Post on October 2, 2012

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