How Egypt Uses Israel’s Desire for Normalization as a Bargaining Chip

April 1 2019

Last Tuesday marked the 40th anniversary of the peace treaty concluded by Anwar Sadat and Menachem Begin. To commemorate that event, Israel hosted a series of public events at universities and think tanks, to which it invited Egyptian private citizens and officials, including Hebrew-speaking diplomats stationed in Tel Aviv—not one of whom attended. Nor was there an Egyptian parallel to the attention or the celebratory tone that Israeli media lavished on the anniversary. Haisam Hassanein finds this divergence emblematic of the two countries’ attitudes:

Egyptian authorities have used the difference [between their goals and Israel’s] to further their own interests, often wielding it as a tool of punishment or reward. Cairo is well aware that many Israelis are so eager for recognition, warmth, and normal relations that they will often seize on whatever diplomatic door is opened—and willingly pay a price to keep it open if the other side threatens to close it.

This is why Egypt will occasionally exchange delegations with Israel, send a group of tourists there, cooperate in certain technical fields, moderate attacks in the Egyptian media, ameliorate the security situation around the Israeli embassy, grant permission to hold bilateral cultural activities, marginally improve trade relations, allow meetings between Israeli and Egyptian notables, accept Israeli invitations to high-profile dinners, and participate in trade shows or cultural fairs with Israelis.

At the same time, the government allows local media to maintain a very hostile tone toward Israel. During last year’s Ramadan observances, for example, Egyptian television aired a show in which an al-Qaeda member operating in the country turns out to be an Israeli Mossad agent bent on compromising Egypt’s national security. The government publicly praised the program, and its tacit endorsement of such warped views seems clear given the degree to which President Sisi has controlled the media since he rose to power. Most media depictions of Israel-related issues [should] be thought of as approved by government officials, reflecting a widespread desire to ostracize Israelis and Jews, foment fear and hatred toward them, and glorify the Arab struggle against them.

[Moreover], Cairo seems to believe other Arab states are not strong enough to handle full normalization, theorizing that such an outcome would allow Israel to take control of their economic and financial systems. Hence, Egyptian officials seem to market their own approach to Israel as the best model—namely, sign a bilateral peace agreement, yet greatly limit normalization in order to forestall the supposed damage that Israel would do to the region’s social, political, and cultural texture.

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Read more at Washington Institute for Near East Policy

More about: Anti-Semitism, Egypt, Israel & Zionism, Israel diplomacy

 

Who Changed the Term “Nakba” into a Symbol of Arab Victimization?

April 19 2019

In contemporary Palestinian discourse, not to mention that of the Palestinians’ Western supporters, the creation of the state of Israel is known as the Nakba, or catastrophe—sometimes explicitly compared with the Holocaust. The very term has come to form a central element in a narrative of passive Palestinian suffering at Jewish hands. But when the Syrian historian Constantin Zureiq first used the term with regard to the events of 1948, he meant something quite different, and those responsible for changing its meaning were none other than Israelis. Raphael Bouchnik-Chen explains:

In his 1948 pamphlet The Meaning of the Disaster (Ma’na al-Nakba), Zureiq attributed the Palestinian/Arab flight to the stillborn pan-Arab assault on the nascent Jewish state rather than to a premeditated Zionist design to disinherit the Palestinian Arabs. “We [Arabs] must admit our mistakes,” [he wrote], “and recognize the extent of our responsibility for the disaster that is our lot.” . . . In a later book, The Meaning of the Catastrophe Anew, published after the June 1967 war, he defined that latest defeat as a “Nakba,” . . . since—just as in 1948—it was a self-inflicted disaster emanating from the Arab world’s failure to confront Zionism. . . .

It was only in the late 1980s that it began to be widely perceived as an Israeli-inflicted injustice. Ironically, it was a group of politically engaged, self-styled Israeli “new historians” who provided the Palestinian national movement with perhaps its best propaganda tool by turning the saga of Israel’s birth upside down, with aggressors turned into hapless victims, and vice-versa, on the basis of massive misrepresentation of archival evidence.

While earlier generations of Palestinian academics and intellectuals had refrained from exploring the origins of the 1948 defeat, the PLO chairman Yasir Arafat, who was brought to Gaza and the West Bank as part of the 1993 Oslo Accords and was allowed to establish his Palestinian Authority (PA) in parts of those territories, grasped the immense potential of reincarnating the Nakba as a symbol of Palestinian victimhood rather than a self-inflicted disaster. In 1998, he proclaimed May 15 a national day of remembrance of the Nakba. In subsequent years, “Nakba Day” has become an integral component of the Palestinian national narrative and the foremost event commemorating their 1948 “catastrophe.”

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Read more at BESA Center

More about: Arab World, Israeli-Palestinian Conflict, New historians, Yasir Arafat