Monday, January 7, 2008

The Case of the White Bird

Why Tzipi Livni Won't Fly


"......IT IS HARD to imagine a more foolish policy. Anyone who knows anything about Egypt - and there are such people even in the Foreign Office - would be aware that this is not just about hitting the pocket, but also the heart. Not just a matter of money, but also of pride.

Every year Egypt gets more American money than any other country on earth - except Israel, of course. And not for nothing: it started when Egypt signed the peace agreement with Israel. The enemies of the Egyptian regime call it a bribe for serving Israeli interests.

No country is more sensitive about its honor than Egypt. Its leaders regularly remind everybody - and, indeed, its foreign minister reminded Tzipi Livni this week - that the Egyptian state has existed for 7000 years, and is not prepared to be lectured by Israel (which was not even there 60 years ago.)

Egypt lives in a painful contradiction: it sees itself as the cradle of human civilization and the center of the Arab world, but it is a very poor country and needs every dollar it can get. Hosni Mubarak's regime is totally dependent on the United States, but desperately craves the respect of 70 million Egyptians and hundreds of millions of other Arabs......

The Egyptians consider themselves the natural leaders of the Arab world. President Mubarak and his followers are very sensitive to the accusations of their enemies - especially the Muslim Brotherhood - that they are serving the Israeli occupation at a time when Israel is starving the Gaza population and killing their leaders. Mubarak has no wish to do anything against Hamas that would seem to confirm these charges.....

THE PILGRIMAGE to Mecca is, as everybody knows, one of the five pillars of Islam. A person starting on this voyage, with all its hardships, is much respected by all Muslims.

The million and a half inhabitants of the Gaza strip are prevented from fulfilling this duty, unless they undergo a "security check" by the Israeli army, often accompanied by harassment and humiliation. On Israel's demand, the Egyptians have closed the only border station that connects the Gaza Strip with the outside world: the Rafah crossing.

Two thousand pilgrims from Gaza have broken this blockade and crossed the Rafah border. It seems that the Egyptians cooperated, either openly or by closing their eyes. Indeed, how can an Egyptian leader block the path of devout Muslims on their way to fulfill one of the holiest duties? But the chiefs of the Israeli security establishment were furious.

The problem became worse when the pilgrims were on their way back from Mecca. When their ferry reached the Sinai shore, Israel demanded that the Egyptians block the Rafah crossing and compel the pilgrims to return through Israeli territory. This would have delivered Hamas members and other "wanted" people into the hands of the Israeli Security Service.

For the Egyptians, that was an altogether intolerable demand. If they had acceded to it, they would have looked to the whole Muslim world like collaborators who had turned over to the Jews pious Muslims returning from the holy Hajj.

The end was foreseeable: the Egyptians allowed all the pilgrims to return through Rafah. The Israeli government had scored an own goal.

All this would not have happened if the Foreign Minister had persuaded her colleagues to close their eyes and shut up. She didn't. They would not have listened to her anyhow....."

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