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The following story was written by Warren Clarke from Churches for Middle East Peace, a coaltion of 24 national church denominations and organizations working for just and peaceful governmental solutions to the Israeli-Palestenian conflict. The Maryknoll Office for Global Concerns is a member of CMEP.

Regional Change and the Peace Process

February 7, 2011

Emerging Egypt

People around the United States and the world this week breathlessly watched the changes evolving on Egypt’s streets. Historic demonstrations continue to rock the capitol city of the most populous Arab country, and they look ready to topple the 30-year regime of Hosni Mubarak. What a new Egyptian government might look like remains unclear, but the U.S. administration is scrambling to figure out what this change will mean for U.S. foreign policy. In a commentary published by Foreign Policy Magazine ’s Middle East Channel , foreign policy analyst Mark Perry opines that the Obama Administration’s rhetoric is shifting in part because of the, “realization that a new constellation of leaders will soon take office in Cairo -- and we're going to have to deal with them, like it or not.”

The U.S. Congress has added its voice to the fray with a Senate Resolution sponsored by Sen. John Kerry (D-MA) and Sen. John McCain (R-AZ) that, while recognizing the importance of the U.S.-Egypt bilateral relationship, calls for President Mubarak to “Immediately begin an orderly and peaceful transition to a democratic political system . . .”

What does this mean for Israel-Palestine?

The emerging changes in Egypt are likely to have a ripple effect across the region, not least in neighboring Israel. Israel has an understandable concern about instability on its border, as Egypt’s security apparatus has policed the border with Gaza since Israel withdrew from the territory in 2005. As Egyptian forces have abandoned this post, Al Jazeera English is reporting that Hamas has stepped up patrols along Gaza’s border with Israel in an effort to maintain security and ensure that fighters on either side will not breech the barrier.

Weighing heavily on many minds is also the future status of the Camp David Accords, Israel’s peace agreement with Egypt, signed by Egyptian President Anwar Sadat and Israeli Prime Minister Menachem Begin in 1978. Lara Friedman of Americans for Peace Now wrote this week that the historic peace agreement “has for more than 30 years been the single most important element of security and stability between Israel and the Arab world.” She says that no one can predict how future leadership will address treaties of the past, but notes that widespread frustration in the Arab world with the lack of progress toward peace in the Israeli-Palestinian conflict could possibly have an impact on future Egyptian-Israeli relations.

Beyond the obligations of the peace treaty with Israel, Mubarak has been one of the more supportive Arab leaders of a two-state solution. The make up the government that will replace Mubarak remains unpredictable, as does Egypt’s relationship with Israel and influence on the peace process. But it is clear that the future Egypt will have an important role to play in one way or another. The chance remains too that Israeli leadership could use revolution on its borders to inspire a radical new approach to the peace process. Speaking before the Knesset on Wednesday, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu called for Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas to join him in talks and labeled peace as essential to Israel’s security.

Diplomacy of Four

In the midst of the change that is sweeping the region, the Middle East Quartet is scheduled to meet this weekend on the sidelines of the Munich Security Conference. At the top of the Quartet’s agenda will be the stagnation in the Israeli-Palestinian peace process, moribund since late September of last year. Representatives at the meeting will include U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov, Catherine Ashton of the European Union and U.N. Secretary General Ban Ki-Moon. There are several key factors that will likely influence the group’s discussion, including the release of the Palestine Papers, leaked documents that reveal years of off-the-record negotiations between Israel and the Palestinian Authority.

Also likely to be a topic of discussion is the proposal made on Friday by Netanyahu and Quartet Envoy Tony Blair for a series of confidence-building measures as a gesture toward the Palestinians. Commentators have indicated that the package of mostly economic and development measures was designed and timed largely in the hopes of moderating international criticism of Israel in the absence of any progress toward peace.
Resolutions and Settlements

Netanyahu’s proposal is also likely presented as a counter to the draft resolution condemning Israeli settlements that was submitted by Lebanon to the UN Security Council last week and is likely to be a topic of conversation for the Quartet. The resolution describes the settlements using language that has historically been a part of the U.S. vernacular and therefore putting the Obama Administration in a tricky spot if it comes to a vote. After months of inertia on the peace process, the resolution is applying pressure to all parties involved. A UN diplomat told the news agency Agence France Presse that Palestinians are looking to the United States to “either publicly or privately or multilaterally through the Quartet to set out in a little bit more concrete terms what is the process they are now planning."

The prescriptions for a response to the resolution are varying and many. You can read CMEP’s statement on the draft resolution here.

Travel report

CMEP’s delegation to the Middle East last month was full of eye-opening experiences and revealing meetings. Read more about the trip and see pictures of our travels.

After a break, CMEP is glad to revive our weekly bulletins, offering news and analysis of the Middle East peace process, developments in Washington, and what’s happening at CMEP. Your suggestions and feedback are always appreciated.
 


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