JERUSALEM – Even as Secretary of State John Kerry tried to put a positive spin on his arduous negotiations with Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas in an effort to restart Israeli-Palestinian peace talks, high-ranking Israeli government officials and Israeli media outlets said that the growing chaos in Egypt and the continuing Syrian civil war, along with Abbas’s intransigence, were undermining the chances for a resumption of talks in the coming months.
According to Channel 10 News Arab Affairs correspondent Zvi Yehezkeli, millions of angry Egyptians, fed up with Egyptian President Mohammed Morsi’s inability to improve their country’s battered economy and his insistence on imposing stifling religious dictates on the Egyptian populace, are waging the current violent struggle against members and supporters of Morsi’s Muslim Brotherhood Party in a bid to drive him from power. Morsi is adamant that he will not resign or call for new elections.
The chaos in Egypt has become so desperate that an Egyptian pro-Muslim Brotherhood religious leader, Sheikh Yusuf al-Qaradawi, who has backed Morsi and radical Sunni Islamic rebels attempting to depose Syrian President Bashar al-Assad, urged Morsi to seek compromise with Egypt’s citizenry and opposition political leaders. The controversial anti-Western, anti-Israel Qaradawi has been banned from several Western countries and was denounced by clerics in Saudi Arabia, Iraq and the Palestinian Authority for “giving Islam a bad name.”
According to Channel 10 News and other sources, if the violence in Cairo spreads across Egypt, the country’s army may be forced to oust Morsi for an indefinite period of time. In addition to bettering its chances to foster national stability, overthrowing Morsi – even temporarily – would also allow the army to wage more aggressive battles against pro-Hamas and al Qaeda terror groups operating across the Sinai Peninsula, along Israel’s southern border. A senior IDF commander was quoted as saying that intelligence units had detected a marked increase in terrorist movements near the border.
Meanwhile, Kerry remains optimistic, despite a number of hurdles, about his chances to revive Israeli-Palestinian peace talks after marathon negotiations with Netanyahu and Justice Minister Tzipi Livni. Just before leaving Israel earlier this week, Kerry told reporters, “They [Abbas and Netanyahu] understand that in the pursuit of this new partnership, one ally none of us have is time. Time threatens the situations on the ground, it allows them to worsen, it provides time for misinterpretations, and time for mistrust to harden. It allows time for vacuums to be filled by bad actors.”
Yisrael Hayom reported that the secretary of state was “disappointed” by Abbas’s resolve for Netanyahu to capitulate to his demands to release terrorists serving long prison sentences and to freeze all settlement construction (including in Jerusalem) even before renewed negotiations can commence. Abbas is also pressing for an Israeli commitment to finalize borders along the pre-1967 lines. The newspaper also reported that Kerry was pleased with Netanyahu’s negotiating stance, which allegedly included a partial building freeze in Judea and Samaria, and an eventual withdrawal from 90 percent of those lands. Netanyahu’s plan would preserve all of the major settlement blocs, including Gush Etzion and Ariel, as part of a final peace accord.