Editorial from The Jerusalem Post of June 24, 1996

The Cairo Reality

(June 24) DESPITE Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak's repeatedly stating that the convening of the Cairo summit was not meant as a threat to Israel's new government, it is clear from the meeting's final communique that the Arab leaders have few olive branches to extend to Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu.

While it would be naive to expect an Arab summit to call for anything less than a full Israeli withdrawal from the territories captured in the Six Day War - a war, lest anyone need reminding, started by the Arabs and fueled by their determination to wipe Israel off the map - the communique also warned that if these maximalist territorial demands were not met, then "[this] would lead to a setback in the peace process, with all the dangers and repercussions that implies, taking the region back to the cycle of tension. The Arab states would be forced to reconsider the steps taken towards Israel in the framework of the peace process [and] the government of Israel alone would bear full responsibility."

The threatening tone of this statement does not augur well for serious negotiations between Israel and her Arab neighbors. A peace process needs partners who are committed to reaching a mutually satisfactory final goal; there can be no progress if one side sets down its toughest demands and insists on all or nothing.

Indeed, Mubarak might have been more reassuring as to the summit's intentions were it not for Egypt's own poor record on normalization with Israel. The term"cold peace" has become synonymous with the state of Israeli-Egyptian relations. Despite a steady flow of Israeli tourists to Egypt, few Egyptians have visited Israel. Trade and direct investment remain limited, and Egypt has worked strenuously to condemn and vilify Israel at various international forums. The one time that Mubarak set foot on Israeli soil, for Prime Minister Yitzhak Rabin's funeral, he took great pains to emphasize that it was not an official visit. If Mubarak truly wants to encourage Israel to believe that treaties with Arab regimes are worth undertaking and implementing, he can begin by improving his own record in this regard.

The summit's interference in Israel's relations with Turkey, in its call to Ankara to reconsider its military ties with Jerusalem, is also regrettable. The military agreement between the two countries, which allows Israel Air Force planes to conduct training exercises in Turkish airspace, does not endanger Arab security and should not merit a mention in an Arab summit communique.

It is also difficult to view certain other elements of the summit as anything but ironic. How can one take seriously the call to combat terrorism when many of the summit's participants are among the world's biggest bankrollers of po litical violence? The most active terrorist groups in the region, such as Hizbullah and Islamic Jihad, receive Syrian support and encouragement. Libya remains a pariah state for its involvement in the bombing of the Pan Am flight over Lockerbie. Hamas spokesmen continue to operate openly in Amman, the Jordanian capital, and Jordanian parliamentarians recently joined a clerical edict permitting suicide bomb attacks against Israelis.

The divisions in the Arab world were highlighted by the summit's attempt to foster an image of Arab unity. The non-invitation of Iraq pointed to the biggest schism facing the Arabs. Syrian leader Hafez Assad's meetings with Jordan' s King Hussein, whose rule he has consistently attempted to undermine for over two decades, and with PA Chairman Yasser Arafat, who he had refused to see for over two-and-a-half years, served as an unintended reminder of the vast divisions that remain among three of Israel's most important neighbors. It was only last week that Jordanian spokesmen were threatening to reveal Syria's involvement in planned terror attacks in Jordan. And, as the US State Department's recent report on terrorism noted, Assad harbors in Damascus some of the most violent Palestinian rejectionist groups, many of whom detest Arafat.

The summit should also serve as a clear reminder to the West of the archaic and inherently undemocratic nature of the Arab regimes. It is indeed rare in this age of democratic upheaval that the world is witness to such a gathering of sultans, emirs, monarchs and dictators, most of whose political systems are throwbacks to a bygone era. While numerous non-democratic governments in Africa, eastern Europe, Asia and South America have been swept aside inrecent years , the Arab regimes remain the last great outpost of despotism in the modern world.

(c) Jerusalem Post 1996