Egypt and the Second Palestinian Intifada: Policymaking with Multifaceted Commitments
By Rami Ginat and Meir Noema
(Brighton: Sussex Academic Press, 2011) 149 pp.

Reviewed by: Dr. Jacob Tovy, independent researcher

This book seeks to study the policy of Mubarak’s Egypt regarding the second Palestinian Intifada during the years 2000-2005, encompassing its military facets and political implications.

In the first part, Ginat and Noema briefly outline Mubarak’s foreign policy formulated from the beginning of his rule (in 1981) in four different contexts: Domestic, Inter-Arab, Israeli and American. The authors concluded that during Mubarak’s era Egyptian foreign policy, unrestricted by ideological bonds, was pragmatic – realpolitik – and sought to serve attainable Egyptian interests.

In the book’s second and principal part, the authors discuss the Egyptian reaction to the sequence of military-political events, which occurred in the Israeli-Palestinian sphere, from the Camp David summit in the summer of 2000 until the Israeli disengagement from the Gaza Strip five years later.

The Camp David meeting, which was held under the patronage of US President Bill Clinton with the aim of resolving the Israel-Palestinian conflict, was received negatively by Egypt mainly because it did not participate in the summit. Consequently, Egypt refused to assist the American president in making the process a success and the meeting’s eventual failure led to a rift between Cairo and Washington. Simultaneously, Washington understood that Egyptian input would be crucial for ensuring the success of the Israeli-Palestinian track and therefore it would be wise to invite Cairo to participate in future political moves.

However, the next move in the Israeli-Palestinian sphere was not political but military. After Ariel Sharon, Israel’s leader of the opposition, ascended the Temple Mount in September 2000, the second Palestinian Intifada erupted. Mubarak’s government soon found itself under attack by the local opposition as well as by radical elements in the Arab world as they demanded that Egypt react resolutely to Israel’s military actions, even calling for the severance of diplomatic relations.

The Egyptian regime’s efforts to quell the rage included fierce criticism of Israel’s policy towards the Palestinians and the recall of the Egyptian ambassador from Tel Aviv. However, in keeping with its pragmatic approach, which was aimed at maintaining the peace treaty with Israel and upholding the strategic alliance with the United States, Mubarak’s regime avoided taking the extreme measures as demanded by radical elements at home and abroad.

When George Bush took over as president (January 2001) hopes developed in Cairo for an improvement in the relations between the two countries. Cairo made intensive attempts to reach out to Washington. Following the terrorist attacks in the United States in September 2001, these efforts led Egypt to distance itself from Yasser Arafat, the Palestinian president, who was seen as encouraging terrorism.
The Egyptians also began to condemn the suicide terrorists’ phenomenon. This was part of Cairo’s attempts to fit it with the general feeling in the United States that was hostile to any manifestation of terrorism. In keeping with its approach, Cairo supported the vision of an Israeli-Palestinian peace accord, which President Bush proposed in the summer of 2002 – “the road map.” In pursuing the realization of this vision, the Egyptians began to work with the new and moderate Palestinian prime minister, who was elected in April 2003, namely Mahmoud Abbas. Thanks to Egyptian efforts, a ceasefire between the Israelis and the Palestinians was reached in the summer of 2003.

However, this truce collapsed within a few months. As a result of that and against the background of Abbas’ resignation, Prime Minister Sharon decided to take a unilateral step – the evacuation of the Israeli settlements from the Gaza Strip.

Egypt’s initial reaction to the move was negative as Cairo was opposed to unilateral steps. The Egyptians changed their minds once they were convinced that Washington supported the move and Sharon was resolute on seeing it through. Egyptian support for the disengagement plan led to a dramatic rapprochement between Jerusalem and Cairo. This development grew in intensity after Arafat’s death in November 2004 and the ensuing election of Abbas as the new Palestinian president in January 2005.

About a month later the Israelis and the Palestinians signed a ceasefire agreement and thereby put an end to the second Intifada. It was no coincidence that the signing ceremony was held under Egyptian sponsorship. This constituted evidence of Egypt’s decisive importance in any future Israeli-Palestinian-Arab settlement.

In their book, Ginat and Noema examined Egyptian newspapers and conducted interviews with different Egyptian researchers and scholars. These sources enabled the authors to present the reader with a comprehensive historical picture that is coherent and especially interesting. This research undoubtedly adds an important layer to the understanding of the Israeli-Palestinian-Arab relations .