SPEAKING FREELY The importance of Camp David
By Riccardo Dugulin Speaking Freely is an Asia Times Online feature that allows
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After the tumultuous spring derived from an unprecedented wave of revolts in
the Arab countries, a new storm is preparing in the Near East. Rhetoric and
facts are mixing in what may soon turn out to be a new round of hostilities
between Israel and its regional neighbors.
As a result of the recent violence against the Israeli Embassy in Cairo, the
Muslim Brotherhoods's spokesman, Mahmoud Ghezlan, stated that regardless of
their absence from the event, the party encouraged the abrogation of the peace
treaty, an embargo on gas exports to Israel and the overall rejection of the
Camp David agreements.
In addition to these statements, the Israeli-Egyptian border has become once
more a turbulent area after decades of relative stability. Since the terrorist
attacks in Eilat, tensions have increased on both sides of the border. The
latest incidents to date were registered on September 11, when shots were
reported to have been fired from Egypt toward Israel; and on September 27, when
a gas pipeline was attacked in the Sinai.
In the meantime, Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan has been
developing a new aggressive stance in regard to his ex-regional partner. After
the publication of the Palmer report, Istanbul unilaterally downgraded its
diplomatic ties with Israel. In the following days, Israeli travelers were
publicly discriminated against at Istanbul international airport.
The latest act of the downfall in Israeli-Turkish relations has been in the
form of a statement made by a Turkish newspaper admitting that newly acquired
technology enabled Turkish F16s to designate and target Israeli aircraft as
"enemy" (an option which was blocked under US-Turkey agreements).
In addition to that, Iranian President Mahmud Ahmadinejad exhorted the
Palestinians on August 27, al-Quds day, not to forget their real objective and
that "recognizing the Palestinian state is not the end goal. It is only one
step forward toward fully liberating all of Palestine." This might not sound
new, but in the present situation it reiterates that peace between Arabs and
Israel is not an objective.
A Hamas spokesman, Salah Bardawil, echoed Ahmadinejad's argument, fearing that
any United Nations recognition of a Palestinian state would block the long-term
prospects of the "resistance". Furthermore, he added that this measure was
undertaken by the Palestinian Authority without any accord with the Gaza-based
movement. This situation certainly does not encourage long-term Palestinian
The question is whether such an evolution in relations with Israel will benefit
neighboring Arab states or not.
If history teaches us anything, from 1948 onward wars and periods of prolonged
conflict with Israel have never benefited the Arab people; at best they
empowered a given political party over its local rivals. (Example: Hezbollah
after the 2006 war).
The tangible concern is that the present situation may well lead to a conflict
of an intensity that has not been experienced since the 1973 war. For this,
detailing the benefits all parties would retain in a situation of peace is a
necessary step toward the diffusion of regional tensions and the implementation
of "Arab Spring" ideals.
The results of war
Setting aside any nationalistic discourse, overt wars and terrorist campaigns
have never, since 1948, benefited any of the belligerent parties.
Economically, conflicts in the region have slowed, at different levels, the
growth of the parties involved. If peace would have been settled in 1991,
Israel gross domestic product per capita in 2010 would have been of $44,000
instead of $23,000. Overall, the opportunity cost of conflict between 1991 and
2010 for the Near East has been $12 trillion.
In addition to that, tens of thousands of soldiers, civilians and irregulars
have died (an estimated figure is of 51,000 fatalities between 1950 and 2007).
Regardless of these major sacrifices, a single decisive victory has not yet
The conflict between Arab nations and Israel has brought great suffering to all
the people involved in the fighting; it has discredited an entire ideology, as
Arab nationalism saw the beginning of its downfall in the 1967 defeat;
encouraged the development of extremist and corrupt parties that are no longer
committed to the welfare of the people but to the persistence of their cause;
and worst of all, over the past 60 years it has polarized positions in a way in
which a negotiated settlement appears a mirage more then a pragmatic reality.
Fulfilling the promises of the revolutions
As a result of what has been coined the "Arab Spring", the West, through what
might be a serious case of mirror-thinking, has developed the idea that in the
very short term Egypt will be a liberal democracy. If this idea is debatable,
the fact that war would endanger such a political transformation is not.
War between Israel and any of its usual adversaries (or all of them at once)
would mark the end of the liberal spirit that sparkled from Benghazi to Tahrir
and is now expanding in Syria and Yemen.
Uniting once more against Israel would erase the freedom the Egyptian thrived
If the first historic act the new Egyptian government achieved in regard to its
neighbors was to repudiate the Camp David agreements, then, by defining a
common external enemy and entering into a war-time mentality, the reinsertion
of emergency laws would be justified, the power of the military establishment
over civilian officials would be effectively reinstated and overall democratic
possibilities would be crushed.
Considering the annual American aid to the Egyptian military, such a move would
be counter-productive as the army would lose a great source of revenue and
would then need to use capital, originally reserved for the public budget, to
keep an edge on the Israeli Defense Forces.
For all parties maintaining peace at all costs would be a pragmatic choice as
regards the long-term benefits that would derive from it.
The Egyptian military and civilian establishment should hold onto the already
existing Camp David agreements, as since 1979 peace with Israel has become
In a drive to cement the gains of the political revolution, the Egyptian people
would be better off if all their energies were concentrated on rebuilding their
government and amending their constitution.
Focusing on an external enemy would downplay the need of long-lasting and
much-needed economic and social reforms aimed at reinserting the Egyptian state
in the global economy and providing security to all of its citizens.
A drive to cancel Camp David would bolster radical and undemocratic parties and
interest groups that are keener on maintaining a position of antagonism with
the Jewish state than stepping up to a new phase for Egyptian politics.
As for an embattled Israeli government facing the worse multi-layered set of
threats since 1948, the peace treaty with Egypt is worth a great deal of
concessions and the military and civilian establishments are ready to deal with
it in the most conscious ways.
In the coming years, even more than in the past decades, peace matters. As past
experiences show, wars during times of revolution do not result in democracy.
A post-Hosni Mubarak Egypt has to calculate its steps wisely if it intends to
achieve the liberal ideals expressed in February 2011.
A post-September 23 Israel has to rationalize its dealings with its most
prominent neighbor to regain some of the international leverage it has lost.
Riccardo Dugulin is a Master Student at the Paris School of International
Affairs (Sciences Po) specialized in International Security. He is currently
working as a trainee at International SOS (Paris) and a non-resident intern at
the Hudson Institute (Washington DC). In December 2010, he published a paper
for the Gulf Research Center (Dubai): Dugulin Riccardo, A Neighborhood Policy
for the Gulf Cooperation Council, Gulf Research Center, Dubai, 2010.
Speaking Freely is an Asia Times Online feature that allows guest writers to have
Please click hereif you are interested in contributing.