x Abu Dhabi, UAEFriday 28 July 2017

Cairo shows Israel rallying extremism

Friday's storming of the Israeli embassy in Cairo is a reminder of the undercurrents of rage and alienation kept alive by the unjust treatment of Palestinians.

Petrol bombs and stones were met with tear gas and armoured cars on Friday night. Street riots have become familiar scenes in Cairo since January 25. This time it is Israel, not the old regime, that is the focus of the rage, but the threat to Egypt's stability is the same.

On the 10th anniversary of the September 11 attacks, the violence in Egypt is a reminder of the undercurrents of rage and alienation that cut through this region. And since Israel's inception, its repeated incursions on Palestinian human rights and territory had made it one of the greatest causes of that rage. There can never be a justification for the murder of innocents that has become the hallmark of Al Qaeda, or indeed for Egyptians tearing apart their own city, but it would be folly to pretend that deeply felt anger against Israel (and, by extension, the United States) is not a powerful rallying cry for extremism.

The lesson should have been learnt by now that violence against Israel simply does more damage to the Palestinian cause, in addition to needlessly shedding more blood. Images of Cairenes wrecking an Israeli embassy will stoke fears ahead of the UN vote on Palestinian statehood this month and make a diplomatic stand-off more likely. The Netanyahu administration uses scenes like these to warn of Armageddon and to justify its every draconian act as self-defence.

It is only extremists and opportunistic demagogues who still call for Israel to be wiped from the face of the earth. In the past, pandering to anti-Israeli sentiment was a sure-fire way to sway the street. We had leaders like Saddam Hussein and Col Muammar Qaddafi as examples; now Bashar Al Assad's last card is his dubious claim to resistance. In the eyes of some, enemies like these have made Israel look good by comparison.

The Middle East is changing, but more fires on the streets of Cairo or elsewhere are not the change we want to see. Regional leaders are coming to terms with populations that demand a fairer, more representative order. For its own welfare, Israel needs to change as well. The occupation of Palestinian territory, the systematic human rights abuses and the duplicitous "peace" negotiations are a dead-end road.

The shape of a new relationship between Egypt and Israel remains to be seen. Certainly the old status quo is untenable. But we have seen time and again that violence works against the Palestinian cause; Egyptians need to consider other more effective options to deal with their neighbour.