Gaza Fallout Weakens Israel, Strengthens Nationalists

Al-Shabaka Commentary

Whenever Middle East tensions rise, observers wonder whether the Camp David accords between Israel and Egypt will weather the storm. It is no different this time. Asked at last Friday’s daily briefing if the peace treaty was “in jeopardy”, State Department spokesperson Victoria Nuland, assured correspondents that the U.S. had no indications from Egypt there was “any difficulty on that question” and believed it “very important for Egypt to live up to its international obligations.”

The newly invigorated Egyptian street would beg to differ with Ms. Nuland. True, the last thing Egyptian president Mohammed Morsi needs is a definitive break with Israel or – more importantly – its U.S. patron. But he may find it hard to sustain even a cold peace in the face of the already great devastation and bloodshed Israel has visited upon the besieged Gaza Strip, whose deliberately impoverished Palestinian population has nowhere to run from the bombing and was only just beginning to recover from Israel’s 2008-9 assault.

Israel’s decision to launch a full-scale military operation that risked spiraling out of control will have fallout not just on the battlefield but also in the political arena, putting at risk its two greatest geopolitical gains of the past 30 years – the Camp David Accords with Egypt and the Oslo Accords signed with the Palestinians.

The value of these accords to Israel has been immeasurable. With Egypt definitively out of the Arab-Israeli military equation, Israel has been able to dominate the Middle East without fearing all-out war on multiple fronts.

And with the Palestine Liberation Organization (PLO) and Palestinian Authority (PA) domesticated, Israel has been able to aggressively colonize the occupied territory with minimal obstruction, while the PA security forces – financed by the United States and European Union – play a lead role in ensuring the security of Israel’s occupation. Israel was also able to nurture new relationships in the Arab world, particularly in the Gulf.

Israel presumably factored the risks of undermining these accords into its calculations. It excels at scanning the political environment, and recalibrating its strategies accordingly, even if its policies often backfire over the longer term. Yet in the changing regional context of 2012, Israel would be foolish to presume that it alone is in a position to capitalize on opportunities produced by such dynamics.

Palestinian and Egyptian activists have for months been demanding a break with Camp David and Oslo, and similar voices are heard in Jordan regarding the Wadi Araba agreement. The Israeli offensive against Gaza gives them an opening to push further, while making it harder for the rulers of these three nations to resist calls for a clean break.

That is not to say that such activists necessarily want war with Israel. They simply want to terminate agreements that have brought neither peace nor justice, and that have tied their nations’ hands politically as well as economically. Think, for example, of the deal that obliged Egypt to sell gas at cut-rate prices to Israel. Or the Paris Protocol that gave Israel the right to collect Palestinian tax revenues and then hand them over, or not, at will. Or the Jordanian market compelled to open its doors to Israeli produce while Jordanian farmers’ products spoil.