TEL AVIV (EJP) --- Egypt sought to assuage concerns over the impact of its new Islamist government on its relations with Israel with the announcement of a new envoy Sunday.
Incumbent President Mohammed Morsi followed up previous indications his Muslim Brotherhood administration would maintain its international accords with the appointment of current consul to Eilat, Atef Salem el-Ahl to the position.
The choice of a diplomat with some experience of working with the Jewish State was publicly “welcomed” by Israel, after what many perceived as a somewhat surprising move to install an ambassador in Israel for the first time since last year’s popular uprising ousted former secular authoritarian leader Hosni Mubarak.
However, the Israeli Foreign Ministry seemed keen to downplay suggestions it signified an upgrade in relations between the two close neighbours, with spokesman Yigal Palmor describing it as “totally natural and normal”. The Egyptian Foreign Ministry similarly mirrored his tone insisting el-Ahl’s appointment formed part of a wider government reshuffle which included 34 other aambassadors.
Despite Morsi’s declarations he would uphold Egypt’s 1979 peace accord with Israel on his historic election in June, no direct meetings have since taken place with the Israeli administration and his advisors slammed President Shimon Peres’ claims in July that he received a letter from the Egyptian leader expressing his comment to Israel’s security.
The appointment is seen by some as a direct response to Israel’s announcement of its own ambassador to Egypt Yaacov Amitai, prior to the presidential elections in February. Whilst the Israeli envoy was apparently “cordially” received by the then-incumbent Egyptian military council, Israel has not since established an embassy in Cairo.
Another former Israeli envoy to Egypt Eli Shaked heralded the move as “very encouraging”, insisting it points to Egypt’s desire to maintain its accord with Israel and “shows the new Egypt lends importance to the Israeli relationship”. The new Islamist administration has previously ignited Israeli fears of a rupture with its peace accord after its Information Minister Salakh Abd ak-Maksud last month declared Egypt would not upgrade its relations with the Jewish State “until occupied Palestinian land is freed”.
Speaking from a meeting of the Organisation of Islamic Cooperation (OIC), a summit of Muslim leaders taking place over consecutive nights due to the Muslim holy fast of Ramadan, he stressed that whilst Egypt would continue to respect its 1979 peace accord with the Jewish State in accordance with Morsi’s wishes, Israel “stole Palestinian lands and for this reason we will not normalise relations with it until those lands are freed”.
Morsi in turn backed the commitment of his minister and fellow Muslim Brotherhood member in insisting the Palestinian issue remains of the most urgent concern in the Muslim world.
Morsi has increasingly implied that he is considering amending the terms of its Camp David Accords agreement with Israel, despite maintaining his post-election commitment to respecting Egypt’s international agreements. The Islamist leader sought to exert control over the Sinai peninsula, following last month’s attack on the Kerem Shalom border with Israel which killed 16 Egyptian troops, and his legal adviser told Egyptian daily al Masry al Yourn he is looking into the possibility of moderating the agreement to grant Egypt full sovereignty and control of the region.
Egypt has already compromised the terms of the accord by deploying heavy artillery and missiles for the first time since the 1979 agreement was put in place stipulating Egypt is only allowed to keep a small force operating in the majority of the territory.
Israel has made public calls to Morsi’s administration to uphold their peace agreement, with Israeli Foreign Minister Avigdor Lieberman last month expressing his hopes Egypt would continue to work with Israel to honour its treaty.
El-Ahl is expected to formally submit his credentials to Peres in October, ahead of assuming his new role.