May 1, 2012

Egypt: Moussa declares Camp David Accords dead - some context, please

Amr Moussa campaign poster

According to a major Israeli newspaper, Amr Moussa (more properly 'Amru Muhammad Musa - عمرو محمد موسى), possibly the next President of Egypt, has declared the Camp David Accords dead." Haaretz headlined the story, "Leading candidate in Egypt presidential race calls Israel peace accord 'dead and buried'." While he did say that, the headline is a bit misleading and requires some context. For more on Moussa's chances of becoming the next president, see my earlier article, Egypt - the kingmakers speak....

In various speeches over the last few weeks, Moussa chose his words very carefully - after all, he is a professional politician. In his own words, "the Camp David Accords are a historical document whose place is on the shelves of history, as its articles talk about the fact that the aim of the agreement is to establish an independent Palestinian state. This agreement is dead and buried." The candidate described the accords as "ink on paper" (hibr 'ala waraq) - an Arabic idiom that corresponds closely to the English "not worth the paper it's printed on."

What the Haaretz headline does is conflate the Camp David Accords with the Egypt-Israel peace treaty, when in reality these are two separate documents. The Camp David Accords, signed in in 1978, did set the framework for the Egypt–Israel Peace Treaty in 1979 - the two are often confused as the same agreement. The 1978 accords included a commitment to grant the Palestinians "full autonomy" within five years, a phrase many believe to be a guarantee of statehood. You would be hard-pressed to find Egyptians who view the two as separate agreements.

Moussa, again choosing his words precisely, states, "There is an agreement between Israel and Egypt that we will honor as long as Israel honors it." This is a welcome statement. While some of the Islamist candidates have called for the abrogation of the 1979 treaty, cooler heads in the Supreme Council of the Armed Forces (SCAF), the group currently in charge of the country pending election of a president, have prevailed - most of the Islamist candidates have been disqualified by the SCAF-appointed Supreme Presidential Electoral Commission.

There is a reason for Moussa's statement and the SCAF's disqualifications of the Islamist candidates. Moussa is trying to appear as the voice of reason to rational Egyptian voters in the first instance. In the second instance, no senior Egyptian military officer in his right mind wants to abrogate a peace treaty with the Israelis. While the Israelis have been able to devote less of its military resources to its western flank and concentrate on what it believes to be its primary enemies - Iran, Syria, Hizballah and HAMAS - it still maintains enough capability aimed at Cairo to hand the Egyptian military a serious defeat.

Amr Moussa is a brilliant politician and an able statesman. We need to listen to his words carefully and appreciate his handling of the Egyptian electorate. Camp David may be dead, but the Egypt-Israel Peace Treaty lives. Perhaps Haaretz should have headlined the article, "Moussa reaffirms Egypt-Israel peace treaty."