New Pew Center poll highlights growing Egyptian revulsion at peace treaty with Israel

Israel/PalestineMiddle EastUS Politics
on 10 Comments
An Egyptian protester outside the Israeli embassy last August (Photo: AP)

Noam Chomsky’s analysis of US foreign policy after the Arab Spring boils down to this maxim: “The U.S. and its allies will do anything they can to prevent authentic democracy in the Arab world.” A newly released poll from the Pew Research Center on Egyptian political attitudes explains why Chomsky is right.

The Pew Research Center poll shows antipathy towards the US and Israel–an expected result if you follow data on Arab and Muslim attitudes towards the West and Israel.

Here are the relevant numbers: 60% of Egyptians say that US economic and military aid to Egypt has a “detrimental impact”; almost 40% want a distancing of the Egypt-US relationship; 80% view the US unfavorably; and 61% of Egyptians want to annul the peace treaty with Israel. That result is up from last year’s, which showed that 54% of Egyptians wanted to toss the treaty out.

The Pew Center also notes that “opposition to the treaty has grown significantly over the last year among young people and the highly educated. Support for annulling the treaty has increased by 14 points among 18-29 year-olds and by 18 points among the college-educated.”

The fact that about the same number of Egyptians dislike US aid and the country’s treaty with Israel is no coincidence. The $1.3 billion in funds the US transfers to Egypt’s military every year is, first and foremost, about making sure the military keeps the treaty with Israel, a sacrosanct pillar of US policy in the region.

There will be those on the right who say that these types of poll numbers show that Israel needs to hunker down in its fortress literally protected by walls on all sides. They will say that Benjamin Netanayhu, Israel’s prime minister, was right when he told the Knesset that the Arab Spring is an “Islamic, anti-Western, anti-liberal, anti-Israeli and anti-democratic wave.” Netanyahu went on to say that the Arab uprisings show why Israel cannot move forward on peace with the Palestinians.

Netanyahu’s right on one thing: the new uprisings in the Arab world are not good for Israel. But it’s precisely because of Israeli policy that a new democratic region would mean a loss of Israeli power. Egyptians want the 1979 peace treaty to be overturned because of their disgust with Israel’s system of control over the Palestinians. The treaty spoke of moving towards “autonomy” for Palestinians, something that we’re not any closer to 30-plus years later. So in fact, the precise reason why Israel’s footing in the region is off-balance is because the masses of people in the Arab world are fed up with Israel’s treatment of Palestinians.

The Obama administration talks of democracy in the Middle East. But their actions speak to the truth that the US still wants to prevent authentic democracy. In March, the State Department “certified to Congress that Egypt is meeting its obligations under its Peace Treaty with Israel,” paving the way for the $1.3 billion to be forked over even as a dispute over a crackdown on NGOs in Egypt continued. The State Department announcement of the certification repeatedly praised Egypt’s new democratic turn.

Over a month later, Egyptian security forces killed 9 protesters calling for an end to the rule of Egypt’s military council. The weapons used to kill were made here and bought with US dollars–all for the purpose of quelling further protests that could destabilize an Egyptian regime eager to stay close to the US and Israel. No wonder why, as Chomsky says, “the U.S. and its allies will do anything they can to prevent authentic democracy in the Arab world.”

10 Responses

  1. BillM
    May 9, 2012, 2:52 pm

    Good article. This pressure (which has been building for 30 years), is the most profound change in the Middle East, far bigger than Iran or Palestine or anything. It is collapsing Israel’s strategic position and frankly undermining the entire US and Israeli projects in the Middle East. This is true in spite of the military junta holding on in Egypt and keeping the pro-Israel/Pro-US government policies going.

    Israel’s strategic freedom in almost totally constrained at this point. Israel’s traditional agressive foreign policy is predicated on the belief that it can absorb any hostility its actions cause from its neighbors, and that US protection will prevent any meaningful hostility from the world at large. But that calculus no longer holds true. The military junta is trying to keep Egypt-Israel treaty alive (and keep Palestine isolated), but it is not so secure in its control of the Egyptian people, and so it must bow to popular anger on some fronts to avoid an open rebellion. If Israel attacks almost anyony, but most particularly Gaza, the Egyptian government will be forced to respond, and actually break the seige of Gaza. That would massively change the Israel-Palestine balance of power, and strategically threaten the entire occupation (and the state structure built around it).

    Hence Israel has no real strategic freedom with this sword hanging over its head. Any bold action would lead to strategic repercussions that Israel is no longer certain it can easily absorb.

    In passing, this (i.e. Egypt) is the reason Israel is becoming steadily more open about its nuclear arsenal, not Iran. Egypt is the real threat and the real reason Israel is highlighting is biggest, baddest weapons more publicly.

  2. Rusty Pipes
    May 9, 2012, 2:54 pm

    Jimmy Carter, who brokered that peace treaty, has said that Israel has failed to fulfill it in letter and spirit.

    • BillM
      May 9, 2012, 3:39 pm

      Next you’ll be saying that about the Oslo Accords.

    • carnas
      May 10, 2012, 7:51 am

      There’s a difference between the Camp David Accords, which Carter was referring to, and the peace treaty. Look it up.

      • Chaos4700
        May 11, 2012, 9:25 am

        For starters, Israel has been in continuous violation of the Camp David Accords vis-a-vis their continued occupation and military territorial expansion, and their agreement by signing the accords to uphold certain UN resolutions.

  3. pabelmont
    May 9, 2012, 3:30 pm

    Strategic repercussions? Egypt is suddenly a major military power willing to go to war (again) with mighty Israel? I must doubt it. So what’s Israel afraid of? Nothing much, it just likes to whimper.

    Bibi: “Poor little (David) Israel, surrounded by enemies.” and “don’t throw me in the briar patch.”

    • BillM
      May 9, 2012, 3:47 pm

      The strategic repercussions are not war with Egypt (though that would drag down Israel and be devastating to both nations). Rather, they are a combination of economic isolation, expensively militarizing yet another border, and ending the seige of Gaza. An economically and militarily viable Gaza completely undermines the Occupation. The Egyptian government can make that happen, and if Israeli actions enrage the Egyptian people enough, it will have to.

      • Rusty Pipes
        May 9, 2012, 4:28 pm

        Especially an economically viable Gaza with full control of its coast and natural gas reserves. Based on its control of Gaza, Israel has been trying to broker energy deals for exploiting that gas which could contribute not only to its energy self-sufficiency, but its income.

      • BillM
        May 10, 2012, 10:43 am

        Egypt can’t grant Gaza control of its coast or gas reserves, but it can change the balance of power, allowing the Palestinians to take more control of their own coast. Relatively cheap Chinese anti-ship missiles would make Israel’s 3-mile limit for Gaza’s coast unenforceable.

      • Citizen
        May 11, 2012, 8:41 am

        And the Palestinian fisherman might even get some fish without being water-canoned.

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