Bibi goes to Sharm

As Netanyahu visits Mubarak in his Sharm Holiday Fun Land Retreat (just when you thought that place couldn’t get any worse), FLP links to an interesting piece on Israeli-Egyptian relations. Netanyahu is visiting in advance of the approaching indirect US-brokered Israel-Palestine talks, recently endorsed by the Arab League, to ‘brief’ Mubarak on the negotiations. Expectations for the talks are mixed; there is a suggestion that Netanyahu only agreed to them due to international pressure on Israel and his fear of the rising influence in the region of both Hamas and Iran. The Palestinian chief negotiator, Saeb Erekat, seems to have no illusions: “If they continue their current trend, it will be very visible for us.” (On a side note, this is also an interesting read on Netanyahu’s perceived strength versus his actual weakness within the context of Israeli politics.)

Bibi’s field trip to Sharm is an indication of Egypt’s role as ‘a bridge between Israel and the broader Arab world’. According to the article on FLP, ‘their strategic and security cooperation is at its highest in years’, although this is balanced by some tensions, particularly Egyptian public opinion, which is largely pro-Palestinian. The two states share interests, notably Gaza, on which issue the Egyptian government has been cooperating with Jerusalem for years; it supported Israel against Hamas in 2008-9 and is of course currently engaged in building the wall at the Gaza border and allegedly shooting and gassing those trying to cross. Israel views Egypt as a useful regional counterbalance to Hamas and also Iran, and when either Gamal or Omar Suleiman succeed Mubarak (they hope) this geopolitical equilibrium will be maintained.

Nevertheless, sympathy for the Palestinians remains strong in Egyptian society, with anti-Israel boycotts and social pressure on those who work or research with or in Israel. Israel is also watching the Muslim Brotherhood’s level of support as evidence for possible ‘Islamisation’ of Egyptian society which would work against their interests. (Another link to awkwardly shove in here – the MB just announced they’re fielding 15 candidates in the Shura Council elections.) This is despite government crackdowns on pro-Palestinian demonstrations, notably those at the conflict in Gaza last year.

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