Egypt Attaches Strings to Peace with Israel

Clinton silent as Egyptian officials reinterpret Camp David Accords

July 16, 2012

Secretary of State Hillary Clinton was silent as a senior Egyptian official stated during a joint press conference that his country would only uphold its peace treaty with Israel if the Jewish state returns to its 1967 borders and gives Palestinians control over portions of Jerusalem.

During a press conference Saturday in Cairo, Clinton and Egyptian Foreign Minister Mohammed Kamel Amr were asked about Egypt’s longstanding peace treaty with Israel, which has come under scrutiny in recent months by officials of Egypt’s new, Muslim Brotherhood-led government.

"Egypt’s understanding of peace is that it should be comprehensive, exactly as stipulated in the treaty itself," Amr said, referring to the original 1978 Camp David peace accords between Israel and Egypt.

"And this also includes the Palestinians, of course, and its right to—their right to have their own state on the land that was—the pre-June 4, 1967, borders with Jerusalem as its capital."

Clinton remained silent following Amr’s statement. (The Obama administration also backs a return to the pre-1967 borders—a decision that was roundly condemned by Jewish leaders when it was announced by the president in May 2011.)

Congressional observers and other experts expressed concern that Egypt’s new government is emphasizing the Palestinian issue as a way to undermine their country’s peace treaty with Israel.

"This is just more evidence that the new Egyptian government has no intention of upholding the long-standing peace deal with Israel," Rep. Joe Walsh (R., Ill.), a congressional opponent of U.S. aid to Egypt, told the Free Beacon in a statement.

"I once again call on this administration to get tough with the Muslim Brotherhood and let them know that their $2 billion aid package will be cut off if the current peace deal is not enforced by Egypt."

Foreign policy experts agreed.

"This is a little bit of a troubling development," said Jonathan Schanzer, vice president for research at the Foundation for Defense of Democracies. "To have the foreign minister raise this right now with the Secretary of State is what we all need to be looking at."

While the more-than-three-decades-old accords explicitly discuss Egypt’s stance on the Israeli-Palestinian peace process, stability between Israel and Egypt was historically viewed as the most critical aspect of the agreement, Schanzer explained.

"By bringing this up, they are bringing up ancient history and redefining the de facto terms under which the peace agreement has existed," Schanzer said. "The new government is looking to establish itself with its domestic base. This is an attempt to flex a little bit of muscle here."

One senior congressional official criticized Clinton for not speaking out against Amr’s remarks.

"The Islamic, radical, new Egyptian government invented a contingency clause for the Camp David peace accords in a live press conference with the U.S. Secretary of State who said nothing in response," said a senior congressional official in contact with the Israeli government. "If that is not a failure of leadership I don’t what is."

"From an Arab world perspective, the lack of response by the secretary could be taken as acceptance of such a contingency on the Camp David peace accords, which would constitute a change to U.S. policy as well," added the source. "What happened is a major strategic error, and it needs to be corrected publicly and loudly very soon."

Clinton also expressed apathy about a potential meeting between the newly elected Egyptian President Mohamed Morsi and Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu.

"It is up to the two nations and the president and the prime minister to make their own scheduling plans," Clinton said. "We have done nothing. That’s not our role; that would not be appropriate."

Clinton also affirmed the Obama administration’s commitment "to relieve up to one billion dollars in Egypt’s debt," as well as to provide "$250 million in loan guarantees to Egyptian small-and-medium-sized businesses."

Such guarantees have raised ire on Capitol Hill, where a delegation of Republican lawmakers urged the administration to withhold aid to Egypt until its government promotes "peace with Israel, and continue[s] to recognize Israel’s right to exist as a Jewish state."

Walsh, who has led the effort on Capitol Hill to withhold aid to Egypt, said that the Muslim Brotherhood’s latest attempt to put conditions on the peace treaty with Israel reveals an underlying hostility towards the Jewish state.

"This latest statement is consistent with the Muslim Brotherhood's position on Israel," Walsh told the Free Beacon. "It is why I along with 35 of my House Colleagues sent a letter to Speaker Boehner urging him to cut off aid to Egypt unless they show that they are 100 percent committed to upholding the peace treaty with Israel."