Mubarak kept peace treaty but shunned deeper ties with Israel
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Analysis

Mubarak kept peace treaty but shunned deeper ties with Israel

Israeli ex-envoy says Egyptian leader didn’t make major efforts to advance agricultural, cultural cooperation; expert says he was keen on advancing Israeli-Palestinian peace

Adam Rasgon

Adam Rasgon is the Palestinian affairs reporter at The Times of Israel

In this March 13, 1996 file photo, Russian President Boris Yeltsin waves as he and (from left to right) Jordan's King Hussein, Israeli Prime Minister Shimon Peres, US President Bill Clinton, Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak and, far right, PLO Leader Yasser Arafat make their way up to pose for the group photo at the end of their one-day Summit for Peacemakers in Sharm el Sheikh, Egypt. (AP Photo/Jerome Delay, File)
In this March 13, 1996 file photo, Russian President Boris Yeltsin waves as he and (from left to right) Jordan's King Hussein, Israeli Prime Minister Shimon Peres, US President Bill Clinton, Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak and, far right, PLO Leader Yasser Arafat make their way up to pose for the group photo at the end of their one-day Summit for Peacemakers in Sharm el Sheikh, Egypt. (AP Photo/Jerome Delay, File)

Immediately after Egyptian president Anwar Sadat was assassinated in October 1981, then-vice president Hosni Mubarak announced that Egypt would continue to respect “all treaties, charters and international obligations” it had agreed to.

Mubarak would go on to serve as Egypt’s president for some 30 years until he resigned in 2011 in the wake of pro-democracy protests that unraveled his autocratic rule over the country.

During his years in power, Mubarak fulfilled his pledge in preserving the landmark Israeli-Egyptian peace treaty — which restored the Sinai Peninsula to Egypt and ended decades of hostilities — but he limited the development of relations between Israel and Egypt.

Mubarak died at the age of 91 Tuesday morning, his son Alaa wrote on Twitter. Egyptian President Abdel Fattah el-Sissi declared three days of mourning starting Wednesday.

The longtime Egyptian leader was swiftly eulogized by Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, who called him “my personal friend,” and “a leader who led his people to peace and security, to peace with Israel.”

“When he took office in 1981, he wanted to restore Egypt’s position in the Arab world,” said Itzhak Levanon, who served as Israel’s ambassador to Egypt between 2009 and 2011.

“He knew that he had to use Israel as currency to gain favor with the Arab world. Therefore, he decided to avoid developing warm ties with us,” he said.

Hosni Mubarak (right), then Egypt’s vice president, welcomes then-prime minister of Israel Menachem Begin at the airport of Ismalia, Egypt, December 15, 1977 (Yaacov Sa’ar/GPO)

“He kept the framework of the treaty intact — which the Americans wanted — but emptied it of much of its contents related to bilateral relations,” the former diplomat said, adding that the former leader did not push back against Egyptian unionists calling for boycotts of Israel or anti-Israel rhetoric in local media.

Levanon said that while Mubarak presided over the development of strong security coordination between Israel and Egypt and some economic ties, he did not make significant efforts to advance agricultural, cultural and several others forms of cooperation.

A substantial swathe of the Egyptian public has long opposed their government’s ties with Israel.

Following the signing of the treaty in March 1979, the Arab League suspended Egypt’s membership and relocated its headquarters from Cairo to Tunis.

The regional body only agreed to restore Egypt’s membership in 1989 and return its headquarters to the Egyptian capital in 1990.

Ofir Winter, an expert on Israeli-Egyptian relations, said that Mubarak preserved “the basic elements of the peace treaty,” but also kept his distance from Israel.

Winter, who is a research fellow at the Institute for National Security Studies think tank, pointed out that Mubarak never made a formal state visit to Israel during his tenure as president.

“He only went to Rabin’s funeral in 1995 and he stated that he had specifically come on a personal visit to offer his condolences to Rabin’s wife,” he said, referring to prime minister Yitzhak Rabin, who was assassinated in Tel Aviv by a Jewish extremist.

This September 9, 2015, image shows the sign posted outside during the re-opening of the Israeli embassy in Cairo, Egypt, four years after an Egyptian mob ransacked the site where the mission was previously located. (Israeli embassy in Egypt official Facebook page via AP)

“He always said that there needs to be a peace agreement between Israel and the Palestinians before he can make a state visit,” Winter said.

Other Arab officials, including then-Jordanian king Hussein, also attended Rabin’s funeral.

Levanon highlighted that, under Mubarak, Egypt significantly restricted the operations of the Israeli Embassy in Cairo.

“We were not allowed to make any direct contact with [Egyptian] ministers or members of parliament,” he said. “The doors were essentially closed to the embassy to communicate with many people.”

Winter, however, noted that Mubarak was keen to engage with both Israel and the Palestinians on issues related to the peace process.

“It was very important for him to encourage progress in the peace process,” Winter said. “He wanted that so he could argue that Egypt did not achieve a separate agreement with Israel but rather one that has paved the way for a broader peace including with the Palestinians.”

Yitzhak Levanon at an ambassadors' meeting in Jerusalem, December 2010 (photo credit: Yossi Zamir/Flash90)
Yitzhak Levanon at an ambassadors’ meeting in Jerusalem, December 2010. (Yossi Zamir/Flash90)

Egypt played host to the signing of several agreements in the 1990s and protocols that make up the Oslo Accords and resulted in the establishment of the Palestinian Authority.

Levanon agreed that Mubarak had taken steps to move negotiations between Israelis and Palestinians forward.

“Mubarak supported the Palestinian position but he felt that there was a need to advance talks between Israelis and Palestinians. He always wanted to encourage the sides to find a solution,” he said. “Whenever we asked him to do something related to the peace process, he was always ready to help.”

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