We in the West have been vociferous in our support of the transformation taking place in the Middle East; democracy is finally coming to the Arabs. The bleak mid-winter autocratic landscape is thawing, the green shoots of pluralism, freedom of speech and equality are tentatively climbing their way up the twine that we in the West so carefully and delicately prepared.
There are numerous issues with such a label, not least that no-one partaking in the uprisings would contemplate calling the movement as such. But more important is this insinuation that the Middle East (and North Africa) are to move into an era reminiscent of times gone by, a time of prosperity and success. Such an eventuality, in the short-term, is highly unlikely; the destruction of many of the old oriental elites has the potential for a catastrophic collapse of regional stability.
If any region can be described with any element of certainty as capricious it is without doubt the Middle East. The region has seen violence uninterrupted throughout the 20th century, much of it related to the Arab-Israeli Conflict. And it is Israel that will inevitably provide the stumbling block for regional stability in this forthcoming period, even if we leave the Iranian issue well out of the equation.
The Arab-Israeli peace process made its first hesitant steps in the aftermath of the Yom Kippur War with the Disengagement Treaties of 1974 and 1975 between Egypt and Israel. Egypt wished to regain control over the Sinai peninsula, and a hesitant Israel was enticed to the negotiating table following an unrefusable offer by the United States; the scene was set for the Camp David framework for peace in 1978 and the peace treaty itself the subsequent year.
The Camp David agreement is to become increasingly important as the internal politics of Egypt undergo dramatic change. The Arab Spring has resulted in the Arab ‘street’ possessing a far greater hold over the direction in which Arab states will develop, and given the antipathy towards the Jewish-majority state we should expect this to materialize on some level in a breakdown of bilateral relations.
Thus the change within Egypt, given her relationship with, and proximity to, Israel, should be of great concern. The Muslim Brotherhood have already threatened to change the terms of the 1979 peace treaty should American aid to Egypt be revoked, arguing that such a move would violate the terms of the 1979 Treaty. But the Brotherhood is equally as able to negate the agreement given the lack of development in regard to the Palestinian conundrum.
The preamble to the 1979 peace treaty affirmed both parties resolve to adhere to the framework for peace agreed upon at Camp David. Section A of that framework called for full autonomy for the inhabitants of the occupied territories following the free election of a self-governing authority. It dictated that Israeli military forces and civilian administration of the West Bank and Gaza would be withdrawn following a transitional phase of no more than 5 years following such elections. Given Israeli failure in regard to this aspect, the Brotherhood is – and within their rights – able to claim that Israel has failed to adhere to the pact. A unilateral abrogation of the treaty would create a distinct lack of confidence in the region, especially if it became apparent that an Iranian hand was at play.
Fortunately whilst the military still exert power and influence over the Arab republic it seems unlikely that such a dissolution will be permitted to occur. The old Generals remember well the horrors of war and they are unlikely to permit a liquefaction of the 1979 treaty. However, as and when the SCAF lose political hegemony within Egypt we will undoubtedly see a government that does not possess experiences of the brutality of war. They will reminisce romantically over “glorious” war with Israel and may well lead Egypt into another.
There are many reasons why Israel should resolve the Palestinian issue by the end of this decade. The growing threat of settlers to the Israeli demographic being high on this author’s list, but external factors must be brought into account. Israel wishes for two things: 1) no more violence, and 2) no more Arab claims. If she wishes to achieve any lasting version of the first she must act now to bring about a resolution of the Palestinian issue, the second should be exactly that: secondary.