On the Record

U.S.-Egypt Relations and Hosni Mubarak’s Washington Visit

Martin S. Indyk

Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak visited the White House for the first time in five years this week. His message was that Arab nations want peace but Israel must make concessions first. Martin Indyk joined Diane Rehm to discuss the future of U.S.-Egypt relations and the Middle East peace process.

Diane Rehm, host: Martin Indyk, as former ambassador to Israel, tell me what your thoughts are about this meeting between President Mubarak and President Obama.

Martin Indyk : Well, as we just heard, clearly the first priority for the Obama administration – and the president himself – is to try to achieve a breakthrough for comprehensive Arab-Israeli peace. Egypt is an important player in that regard, but it’s a limited player. In the sense that, on one hand, it has been the pioneer of the peace process, the first, largest and most influential Arab country that made peace with Israel. But the challenge of bringing resolution to the Palestinian issues involve compromises that the Egyptians have, in the past, not been willing to get out in front of the Palestinians on.

I’m talking about compromises on the issue of the right of return of Palestinian refugees or the question of what happens to Jerusalem. And there they have much preferred to put the Palestinians out front, they have been trying to broker an agreement between Hamas and Fatah – the two Palestinian political parties that are deeply divided and now geographically divided, Hamas controlling Gaza and Fatah controlling the West Bank – and they have not succeeded in that.

There is this process that Nicole Shampaine referred to of reciprocal steps to try to create an environment for peace, but those are steps that other Arab states like Saudi Arabia or the Gulf states are expected to take. Egypt has already taken all of those steps in the context of its peace treaty, and Egypt prefers to be the bridge to the Arab world, rather than have the Obama administration going to the others and getting them to make concessions. Egypt would like to be the broker of that, so Mubarak says: no, no, no, we have to do that Israel acts. The question of what exactly Egypt can do in this context, other than be a cheerleader for the president’s efforts, is questionable.

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