Sunday, September 13, 2015

Analysis: A (moderately) hopeful sign for Israel from Cairo - Zvi Mazel

by Zvi Mazel

To Dore Gold, director- general of the Foreign Ministry, fell the honor on Wednesday of raising for the third time the flag above the Israeli Embassy in Cairo.

Yossi Hadas had been the first. It was on February 17, 1980, and the building, a modest villa in Dokki. After 30 years of wars and hostility, it was a truly historic moment. Peace had been made between the two neighbors, and with it hope for fruitful cooperation for the benefit of both peoples leading, perhaps, to peace between Israel and other Arab countries.

The late Eliahu Ben Elissar raised the flag on what had been intended to be the permanent building, a modern high-rise in Giza, on the west side of the Nile.

Today, it is the ambassador’s residence in Maadi, Cairo’s southern suburb, which has been elevated temporarily to the rank of embassy until a new “permanent” building is ready. A modest but much needed hopeful sign after an angry mob stormed the Giza building four years ago.

This very public ceremony, where the hymns of both countries were played, follows June’s appointment of a new Egyptian ambassador to Israel, Hazem Khairat. These two steps can be interpreted as signaling a positive shift in the relations between Egypt and Israel, perhaps as a result of increased security cooperation and a common interest in fighting Islamic terrorism in the Sinai Peninsula.

Since Abdel Fattah al-Sisi took the helm, there has been a significant lessening of tension between Cairo and Jerusalem. The new president has refrained from attacking Israel publicly and indeed his moderate language has been noted, though he reiterates his support for a Palestinian state with east Jerusalem as its capital.

The Egyptian media are still overwhelmingly hostile, but in more subdued tones, even though there are still outbursts of hatred, mainly from Islamic circles.

What is going to happen now? Will Sisi take the momentous decision to promote much needed economic cooperation for the benefit of both countries, fulfilling at long last the great expectations of the peace treaty? So far, the Egyptian president has been proceeding with slow and careful steps to minimize opposition from home and from Arab countries.

At the moment he is focused on the forthcoming parliamentary elections and has no wish to be embroiled in what is still a hot topic in his country. However, when – or if – his position is fully secure and Islamist terrorism under control, he is too pragmatic a man to reject mutually beneficial cooperation. This is perhaps the true meaning of Wednesday’s small, but significant, event.

Zvi Mazel, a fellow of the Jerusalem Center for Public Affairs, is a former ambassador to Romania, Egypt and Sweden.


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