Friday, June 19, 2009
Hosni Mubarak: Still Singing The Same Tune
I notice that Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak has an editorial in today's Wall Street Journal. It's long-winded, clearly aimed at a Western audience, and full of pleasant-sounding phrases. But it can be summarized thus: President Obama's Cairo speech opens a new opportunity to push forward for Middle East peace, in particular for the Palestinians, and Egypt stands ready to take its place in this process.
That sounds nice, doesn't it? But as usual, the devil is in the details. Let's take a closer look.
President Barack Obama's seminal address in Cairo marked a turning point in America's relations with the Muslim world. His message was clear and incontrovertible: It is issues of politics and policy, not a clash of values, that separate the Muslim world and America. It is the resolution of these issues that will heal the divide.Oh, I don't know about that. The Muslim world is overwhelmingly authoritarian, and its decision-makers have no apparent desire to let that change. (Mubarak himself has been re-elected four times by running unopposed, and once more when he briefly allowed opposition candidates. In the Middle East, everywhere except Israel, this is par for the course.)
The United States, by contrast, has had peaceful exchanges of power some 43 times. We've never canceled a national election, we've never failed to have vigorous opposition parties and candidates, and we've never had to fight it out to determine who our next President would be. Moreover, this is not accidental, but an essential part of the system, and Americans are (justifiably) proud of that.
That sounds like a serious clash of values to me.
Or does Mr. Mubarak mean that, with President Obama in office, the Arab world again has an American leader who sees things their way? This, unfortunately, does make a fair bit of sense; see below.
The ambitious agenda outlined by President Obama must now be followed by forward-looking steps in order to chart a new course in America's relationship with the Arab and Muslim world. I look forward to working with the president to achieve that objective.That sounds pretty good. How, precisely, does Mr. Mubarak propose to overhaul American relations with the Arab world and/or Muslim world? As we'll see in a minute, what Mr. Mubarak really means is that America can now pressure Israel to resolve the Israeli-Palestinian conflict on pro-Arab terms. (Since no other issues are mentioned vis-a-vis America and the Muslims, we can infer that this, and only this, is what Mr. Mubarak expects of Mr. Obama. In short: pressure Israel for us, Mr. President, and Arabs will be more friendly to you.)
For decades, the Arab world has been engaged in a process of intense soul-searching as to how to cope with the forces of change in its midst, including the rising expectations of a rapidly growing younger generation, the destabilizing escalation of regional conflicts, and the swelling tide of radicalism and extremism.This is true as far as it goes, but I don't think it goes quite far enough. He doesn't address the growing desire of Muslims for the right to choose their own governments and run their own lives -- think of Iraq and Lebanon, for example -- and the vested interest of existing governments, his among others, of crushing those desires. Nor does he address the standard technique of unifying the people through demonization of an outside group, which, over time, poisons the national debate and encourages a lack of responsibility on all levels. In the Arab world, the demonized enemy is, of course, Israel, Zionists, and Jews... and Egypt has been a major player in that game for a long time.
Egypt has long been at the forefront of confronting these challenges, whether in being the first to extend our hand for peace with Israel, addressing the dangers posed by the proliferation of weapons of mass destruction, or confronting the threat of terrorism through the moderation and tolerance at the heart of our religious heritage.That's not all Egypt has been in the forefront of; see above.
(I'm not clear on what he means by "confronting the threat of terrorism through the moderation and tolerance at the heart of our religious heritage". Presumably he means Muslim religious heritage, not Egyptian; I haven't heard Ra invoked much lately. Still, whatever "moderation and tolerance" can be found in Muslim tradition, that's not the way Egypt has been dealing with terrorism. Egypt's brutal suppression of the Muslim Brotherhood, for example, is notorious.)
Through these challenges and beyond, Egypt has engaged in a process of reform that is succeeding in providing greater opportunities for our youth, more empowerment for women, as well as greater pluralism and internal debate. We openly acknowledge that this process still has a way to go in fulfilling our aspirations.I'll buy the "greater pluralism" comment, insofar as in the last Egyptian national election, Mr. Mubarak actually allowed other candidates to run. I'm not aware of Egypt's contributions to increasing opportunities for Arab youth and Arab women, so I'll give him a pass on that.
The time has come to renew our commitment to address these many challenges. Among the host of challenges before us, it is the Palestinian issue that requires the greatest urgency, given the precarious state of the peace process after years of stalemate. President Obama has shown a willingness to lead to achieve peace in the Middle East; the Arab world must reciprocate with forthright leadership of its own.Remember what I said a moment ago about demonizing outsiders to distract from local problems? Here Mr. Mubarak, having listed issues facing Egypt as "pluralism and internal debate", "empowerment of women", and "greater opportunities for youth", he naturally concludes that the most urgent of these is the Palestinian issue.
Despite the setbacks of the last few years, it is important to remember that many of the elements of a solution have already been negotiated.This is nonsense. It is, however, a time-honored debating tactic -- close off debate on a thorny issue by claiming that the issue has already been settled. (Your opponent therefore must start out by defending the right to address the issue at all. We've seen this tactic before, of course; it's analogous to the way Israel is forced to start all discussions by defending her right to exist.)
Read on down, and we'll see which issues have, in Mr. Mubarak's mind, already been settled.
After nearly two decades of Israeli-Palestinian negotiations since the initiation of the Oslo peace process, many of the details of a final settlement are well known. Furthermore, the Arab Peace Initiative, adopted at the Beirut summit of 2002, provides a regional framework for such a settlement. For the first time in the history of the conflict, the Arab states unanimously committed to full normalization and security for Israel in exchange for a full withdrawal to the 1967 lines and a negotiated resolution of the Palestinian refugee issue.Please note that, by implication, Mr. Mubarak is advancing the Arab Peace Initiative and equating it to the "well-known" details of a final settlement. Therefore, we could have peace, he suggests, if only we could skip the negotiations and just force Israel to accept the Arab position on all issues.
Obviously, that's unreasonable on the face of it. The details of the proposal are equally unreasonable from the Israeli point of view -- withdraw completely from all territories seized by Israel in 1967, from which Israel had been attacked repeatedly and mercilessly from 1949 through 1967; then, within the well-nigh indefensible pre-1967 borders, require Israel to nonetheless absorb millions of self-declared Palestinian refugees, thereby effectively destroying what is left of Israel.
Most Israelis generally see the demand to withdraw to pre-1967 borders as an attempt, by the Arab world, to fight the 1967 war over again, preferably with Israel hamstrung and handcuffed. Mr. Mubarak has done nothing to contest that notion.
The road to a final settlement will now require leadership and concerted effort from all sides. Over the last few years, Egypt has worked exhaustively to unite the Palestinian leadership in a manner that upholds their commitment to a negotiated two-state solution. Egypt has also tried to broker a durable cease-fire between Hamas and Israel, in parallel with our mediation on a prisoner exchange. During Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu's visit to Egypt last month I renewed our commitment to resume these efforts.In other words, Egypt's demands on the Palestinians have been that they present a united front. This is tame indeed compared to what they demand of Israel... and, as we'll see in a moment, Mr. Mubarak's demands of Israel are not done.
These steps must now be joined with a serious process to negotiate a final status agreement between Israel and the Palestinian Authority. The priority should be to resolve the permanent borders of a sovereign and territorially contiguous Palestinian state, based on the 1967 lines, as this would unlock most of the other permanent status issues, including settlements, security, water and Jerusalem.This certainly would unlock most of the other permanent status issues, in that it makes many of them moot.
Please note also that Mr. Mubarak is not merely advocating a withdrawal of all territories seized by Israel in 1967; he wants more than that! He insists on a territorially contiguous Palestinian state, which would effectively cut Israel in half. Take a good look at the pre-1967 borders; imagine a "territorially contiguous" Palestinian state that includes Gaza and the West Bank.
In other words, he doesn't merely want to turn back the clock to 1967; he wants to undo Israel's gains from the 1948 war as well.
Success of these negotiations will depend on firm commitments from both sides to uphold the credibility of the process. Israel's relentless settlement expansion, which has seriously eroded the prospects for a two-state solution, must cease, together with its closure of Gaza. For their part, the Palestinians must continue to develop their institutional capacity while overcoming their division to achieve their aspirations for statehood.There it is again -- Egypt's demands of the two sides of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. In addition to everything else he's demanded of Israel, Israel must also cease settlement expansion. (This is a catch-phrase President Obama has adopted enthusiastically; since Israeli Prime Minister Netanyahu has already said that he doesn't intend to start any new settlements, this means that existing ones shouldn't build anything new on land they already own.) Israel must also open the blockade of Gaza (which never applied to food, fuel, and humanitarian supplies in the first place; the idea was to keep weapons out, which presumably does not meet with the approval of Mr. Mubarak).
In return, the Palestinians, says Mr. Mubarak, must "continue to develop their institutional capacity" (which institutions, pray tell? Would Hamas bomb-making and missile-launching classes qualify?), as well as "overcoming their divisions". In other words, stop your internal squabbling, but otherwise keep doing what you're doing.
That, of course, would include Palestinian terrorism, a glaring omission in this pleasant-sounding editorial. Mubarak never calls for Palestinian terrorism to stop, or even to slow down. Presumably that means that he expects Israel to negotiate in good faith while her citizens are being kidnapped and murdered.
While full normalization with Israel can only result from a comprehensive settlement including the Syrian, Lebanese as well as Palestinian track, the Arab side stands ready to reciprocate serious steps towards peace undertaken by Israel.Loose translation: "Peace with the Palestinians still doesn't automatically mean peace with Syria, Lebanon, or other Arab nations. But if Israel will take the suicidal steps we demand, the Arab nations will 'reciprocate' with some as-yet-undefined steps of their own."
A historic settlement is within reach, one that would give the Palestinians their state and freedom from occupation while granting Israel recognition and security to live in peace. With President Obama's reassertion of U.S. leadership in the region, a rare moment of opportunity presents itself. Egypt stands ready to seize that moment, and I am confident that the Arab world will do the same.Please note: the Gaza Strip is free of occupation right now. This has not brought Israel 'recognition', nor 'security to live in peace'. Hamas' response to Israel's historic uprooting of tens of thousands of her own citizens in 2005 was, as we know, daily rocket attacks from Gaza into Israel, more than eight thousand of them in less than four years. Nor does Hamas recognize Israel now, any more than it did before Israel evacuated the Gaza Strip.
Recently Hamas allowed as how, if Israel retreated to the pre-1967 borders, Hamas would accept a Palestinian state within those borders, and offer Israel a "long-term hudna", in exchange for Israeli recognition of "Palestinian national rights". That term, of course, could easily encompass the demand for Palestinian refugees to be resettled in Israel after the withdrawal; it could encompass other as-yet-unspecified demands as well.
(Please note that, in 2005, Israel did retreat to the pre-1967 borders of the Gaza Strip. In a rational world, we might have expected the Palestinians to therefore establish a peaceful border there, since they'd gotten what they were asking for, although the West Bank boundary might continue to be problematic. But that's not what happened. In fact, the West Bank, where Israel still retains military authority, has been much quieter and more peaceful since 2005 than the Gaza Strip, where first Fatah and then Hamas had control. In other words, Israel has a pretty good idea what would happen if she withdrew to the pre-1967 borders, because she's already done it!)
Here's a final question: Egypt, says Mr. Mubarak, "stands ready to seize [the] moment" to advance peace, as he sees it. He does not say, at any time, what Egypt is prepared to do, other than talk. Should we find this disturbing... or comforting?