ElBaradei Slips on His Commitment to Peace
Last Sunday there was a very disturbing interview on the NBC News’ Meet the Press with the Egyptian Opposition leader, Muhammad Elbaradei, which did not get enough attention. David Gregory, who is one of the most experienced Washington reporters, probed Elbaradei about the future of the 1979 Egyptian-Israeli Treaty of Peace, and discerned that there was a serious problem in what he was answering. It is worth going over the exact text of the exchange between them:
DAVID GREGORY: And, yes or no. Should Egypt in the future always maintain the peace treaty with Israel?
MUHAMMAD ELBARADEI: I — I think so. But it’s — it’s not just dependent on Egypt, David. It — it’s also dependent on Israel. Israel should not continue to apply a policy of force, vis-a-vis the Palestinians, should — should agree to what everybody knows that the Palestinians have the right to establish a state similar to what the proposal of former President —
GREGORY: Dr. ElBaradei, I think a lot of people hearing this — Dr. ElBaradei people who are hearing this, will hear equivocation and there will be great fear about a potential leader of Egypt saying that the peace treaty is not rock solid with Israel.
ELBARADEI: Well, I think — I think everybody saying it is rock solid, but — but — but everybody also saying that at the same breath that whether Egypt is a democracy, whether Egypt is a dictatorship, everybody in Egypt, everybody in the Arab world will want to see an independent Palestinian state…
Elbaradei has become a darling of many Western governments and the international media, because he headed the International Atomic Energy Agency during the last decade. It did not come then as a surprise that some news agencies just reported that Elbaradei said that the peace treaty is “rock solid,” which is actually a term that Gregory used and Elbaradei repeated in answer to a question. The news stories missed the main news story in the Meet the Press interview: that for Elbaradei, Egypt’s obligations to the peace treaty are conditional on how Israel progresses in its peace with the Palestinians. Specifically, Elbaradei has made the continuation of Egypt’s peace treaty with Israel contingent upon the establishment of a Palestinian state.
Elbaradei was not naive about the language he was using. While in recent years he primarily dealt with disarmament treaties at the IAEA, he was trained in international law. He served in senior positions in the Egyptian foreign ministry in the late 1970’s when Israel and Egypt negotiated their treaty of peace. One of the sticking points during those negotiations was the question of whether the Egyptian-Israeli peace agreement was contingent upon the achievement of a comprehensive peace being reached, including an agreement on Palestinian autonomy. Prime Minister Menahem Begin was concerned that some day an Egyptian leader would create formal linkage between the peace treaty and other negotiations, and use it as a pretext for canceling the treaty between Israel and Egypt.
As a result, Begin insisted upon Article VI of the peace treaty with Egypt stating explicitly that “the parties undertake to fulfill in good faith their obligations…without regard to action or inaction of any other party…” In other words, according to the Egyptian-Israeli Treaty of Peace there was not be any linkage between the peace treaty and the Palestinian issue. True, President Sadat of Egypt was uncomfortable with this particular clause in the treaty. President Carter even tried to get Begin to change it. But, in the end Begin remained firm on this issue. Reading what Elbaradei said earlier this week, it seems he is trying to revise Egypt’s legal obligations on a critical point in the Egyptian-Israeli Treaty of Peace.
Elbaradei has taken a number of disturbing positions that have to be watched carefully. He has been defending the Muslim Brotherhood and told Der Spiegel on January 25: “We should stop demonizing the Muslim Brotherhood.” He presented them as non-violent saying that “they have not committed any acts of violence in five decades.” His statement was wrong, but what was also problematic was that he did not say anything about the position of the Muslim Brotherhood about the 1979 Treaty of Peace with Israel.
Just last week Rashad al-Bayoumi, a deputy leader of the movement, told a Japanese television station “After President Mubarak steps down and a provisional government is formed, there is a need to dissolve the peace treaty with Israel.” Elbaradei’s insertion of linkage between the peace with Egypt and the Palestinian issue assumes different proportions when one considers that Elbaradei has made the Muslim Brotherhood a political ally.
Elbaradei has become the darling of the West in the Egyptian political drama. He appears on on many television networks and is given space on the New York Times opinion pages to express his views. But his views on peace must not be taken for granted. In order to protect the Egyptian-Israeli Treaty of Peace it is essential that the US and the Western powers clarify that Elbaradei’s statements are completely unacceptable. Without this message being delivered, the Egyptian commitment to the Treaty of Peace could become a political football for the parties that seek to form a coalition to inherit Egypt after President Mubarak completes his term.
This article was originally printed in Yisrael Hayom on February 11, 2011