No changes to Israel-Egypt peace treaty, says Liberman

Foreign minister’s comments follow Egyptian calls to amend agreement to allow increased military presence in Sinai

Foreign Minister Avigdor Liberman (photo credit: Flash90)
Foreign Minister Avigdor Liberman (photo credit: Flash90)

Israel will not agree to reevaluate its peace deal with Egypt, Foreign Minister Avigdor Liberman said Sunday amid growing unrest along the states’ shared border.

Liberman told Israel Radio that “there is no chance Israel will agree to any kind of change” in the historic 1979 peace agreement with Egypt, which limits Egyptian military presence in the Sinai Peninsula. “The Egyptians shouldn’t try to delude themselves or delude others and they should not rely on this demand,” he added.

Egyptian President Mohammed Morsi and his Muslim Brotherhood movement have repeatedly called for changes in the treaty to allow troops to be active in the increasingly lawless Sinai Peninsula. Many Egyptians contend the limits infringe upon national sovereignty.

In a bid to halt the rising attacks by militants, Israel and Egypt have agreed to temporarily waive the limits. But violence persists. In the latest incident, three gunmen and an Israeli soldier were killed in a shootout along the border on Friday.

Israel welcomed a sweeping crackdown by Egypt, which deployed armored personnel carriers and attack helicopters to root out militants in the Sinai Peninsula this summer, but it balked once Egypt sent in tanks, some of which were removed after Israel complained.

While the tanks were not aimed at Israel and it does not consider them a strategic threat, Israeli officials said they were concerned about the precedent and that the move should have been coordinated. Egypt claims that it has coordinated the security sweep with Israel.

A shadowy Egypt-based, al-Qaeda-inspired group called Ansar Jerusalem has claimed responsibility for the Friday attack, the latest incident in the deteriorating security situation in the Sinai since the fall of longtime Egyptian leader Hosni Mubarak last year.

Since Mubarak’s 2011 ouster, tensions between Israel and Egypt have grown, particularly since this summer’s election of Mohammed Morsi as president. Morsi, an Islamist who hails from the Muslim Brotherhood, an Islamist movement, has been cooler to Israel than his predecessor and concerns have risen there over the fate of the peace deal.

While it has said it would abide by the peace agreement, the Muslim Brotherhood has repeatedly called for a revision. Many Egyptians contend the troop limits infringe upon national sovereignty.

Lieberman said the number of troops wasn’t relevant, suggesting the Egyptian military was not prepared to tackle the insecurity.

“The problem in Sinai is not the size of the forces; it is their readiness to fight, to put pressure and to carry out the job as is needed,” he said.

Speaking on Army Radio, Defense Ministry official Amos Gilad also highlighted the importance of protecting the peace agreement but did not discuss Israel’s willingness to make changes to it. He said any change would have to be agreed to by both parties.

Morsi is to travel to New York this week for the United Nations General Assembly, but is not expected to meet with US President Barack Obama.

In a wide-ranging interview publishing in The New York Times on Sunday, Morsi urged the US to change its approach to the Arab world and to take a more active role in resolving the Palestinian issue. Americans “have a special responsibility,” he said, because the US mediated the 1978 Camp David Accords, which returned the Sinai to Egyptian control but also promised an autonomous Palestinian West Bank and Gaza and an Israeli military withdrawal from those areas.

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