A perilous situation
As Israel's new government rejects in advance all prospects of peace, it will be Cairo that pays the final cost, writes Abdel-Moneim Said*
Radical Arab dreams have all just crystallised in the new Israeli government, which has brought together every shade of Israeli extremist. It consists of those who reject peace, those who want to expel the remaining Arabs from Israel, and those who maintain that Israel's relationship with the Palestinians and Arabs is one of permanent warfare. If the Labour Party was rewarded for crawling on its belly at the last moment in the hope of winning a few portfolios and a little political sway, this was only because everyone knows it is on its last legs. Meanwhile, whatever had remained of the so-called peace camp in Israel breathed its last with the second Palestinian Intifada and suicide bombings. Only a paltry handful of left- wing writers and intellectuals remain to plead for peace, and theirs is indeed a cry in the wilderness.
Israel inaugurated its new government with the pronouncement of the death of the Annapolis agreement. Some Arabs had regarded this agreement as a major debacle and an Israeli victory that had to be reversed. Well, this dream also came to pass, as did the departure of its architect, George W Bush. With the end of Annapolis, it is no longer just the Palestinians on the far side of the Green Line who are in danger; Palestinians inside Israel itself face the threat of expulsion and joining the ranks of the millions of Palestine refugees that preceded them in earlier decades.
The situation could not be more perilous. Israel had already grown more belligerent before the formation of the new government. Now it appears that Gaza was only the beginning and that its teeth are bared against established Arab countries. The attack against Sudan was ostensibly intended to target weapons from Iran destined to Hamas in Gaza. Most likely, the agreement that was concluded between the US and Israel at the end of the Bush era was intended to provide the legal cover for plans Israel intended to carry out in any case.
Yet, in spite of this situation, the Arab summit had only one matter to discuss on this issue, which was whether to wave the threat of withdrawing the Arab peace initiative. The idea had been given more than its fair share of bandying about as of late. During the last Davos summit, Amr Moussa had personally asked Israeli President Shimon Peres to give his seal of approval for the initiative, which Israel has not yet done. So, by what logic is withdrawing the initiative supposed to be a threat when Israel had never accepted it to begin with, and when no party to the new government has ever been remotely keen on it?
Apart from this, little else happened in the Arab summit, which was more concerned with protecting President Omar Al-Bashir from facing the International Criminal Court than with the Israeli aerial assault on Sudan. About the latter, Khartoum remained silent for more than two months until news of it was leaked by Sudanese sources that had thought that the US was responsible, only to be contradicted by Pentagon spokespersons who revealed that, no, it was not Washington but rather Israel that had committed the deed. If that attack could have taken place under an Israeli government that believed that it was possible to make peace with the Arabs, and that subscribed to the solution of a Palestinian and an Israeli state living side by side in peace, what might we expect from a government like that just formed by Binyamin Netanyahu?
What seems painfully evident now is that the Arabs have nothing left. Also, now that the Arabs have said that the Arab peace initiative will not remain on the table for long, there will be precious little on the table, either to say or do. Netanyahu will rejoice because no one will be interested in the two-state solution any more. As long as this is the case -- just so we in Egypt are not taken by surprise -- the Arabs and the Arab League as well will turn to us and insist that we do the "right thing". The "right thing", according to them, will be to recall our ambassador and kick out theirs, sever relations and cancel the Qualified Industrial Zones and oil and gas agreements, and open the borders with Gaza so that arms can pour in above ground like they did below ground. But if there is one lesson to be learned from the last Gaza crisis it is that when the Arab world has no ability to act and no solutions to offer, it turns to Cairo to pay for policies that are bankrupt from the outset.
* The writer is director of Al-Ahram Centre for Political and Strategic Studies.