Al-Ahram Weekly Online   6 - 12 May 2010
Issue No. 997
Published in Cairo by AL-AHRAM established in 1875

Salama A Salama

Israel's false promises

By Salama A Salama

This is not the first time Israeli Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu has demanded a visit to Egypt. This time he says he wants to get President Hosni Mubarak to intercede with the Palestinians regarding the resumption of peace negotiations. We've been through this before. Each time, Netanyahu says all the right things. He promises to come to reverse Israel's policies and initiate confidence-building measures with the Palestinians. But as soon as he leaves -- and sometimes before he leaves -- he breaks his promises, unleashing another wave of settlement expansion, changing the demographics of Jerusalem, giving East Jerusalem over to settlers, etc.

Still, Egyptian officials buy it. Their patience -- if this is what it is -- cannot be helpful to anyone but Israel. If it were up to me, we would have cancelled the Israeli prime minister's visits to start with. Let's spare Netanyahu the trouble of coming all the way, and spare ourselves the disappointment. As Egypt rolls out the red carpet for Netanyahu, I see no sign of change in Israeli policies. As it happens, Egypt is the one showing remorse. Recently, our ambassador in Tel Aviv had to explain that when Ahmed Abul-Gheit, Egypt's foreign minister, spoke in Beirut about "the enemy" he wasn't referring to Israel!

Despite international pressure, Israel keeps building settler homes in East Jerusalem. And yet the Israelis go on asking for "indirect" talks with the Palestinians. I have no idea what these talks would be about. To this day, Israel refuses to grant the Palestinians the only request they ever made; namely, to freeze settlement activities before the resumption of negotiations. To be sure, the Palestinian request for a freeze on settlements has the full support of the committee following up the Arab Peace Initiative.

What Israel wants is to keep building settlements and talk to the Palestinians at the same time. Meanwhile, the Arabs may be in a mind to consent to indirect talks. They have nothing to go by except a few verbal assurances from the Americans, and yet they don't seem too disappointed. In fact, the Palestinians are waiting for the committee following up the Arab Peace Initiative to tell them whether to resume talks.

The total lack of imagination and spine in Arab ranks is bewildering. If things keep going this way, peace -- any kind of peace -- will be impossible to achieve. The Palestinians seem to have stopped thinking for themselves. They have left their destiny in the hands of Arab committees and ministers. And the latter are waiting to see what's on the American mind.

We are waiting for assurances from Obama. We are beholden to the goings and comings of George Mitchell. We're dozing off while Israel builds more settlements. We're acting cool while the Israelis and the Americans figure out what to do.

What I find particularly galling is that Egyptian officials say that when Netanyahu comes to Cairo they will ask him about Israel's involvement in the Nile Valley. So what if we find out that Israel is doing bad things behind our back? We have agreed to supply Israel with gas in the past. I wonder why we did that, and how long we will keep humouring the Israelis.

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