Examination of Witnesses (Questions 80-83)|
28 FEBRUARY 2007
Q80 Mr. Purchase: I have two small
questions. You may have heard that, in our earlier sitting, I
made reference to some interdependency and mutual agreement, or
mutual interests, between Hamas and Egypt, particularly in Gaza.
Does Egypt continue to have leverage with Hamas? How much leverage
does it have? Will you intertwine that with the influence with
Dr. Hollis: Nomi may want to come
in on this. It was very apparent during Arafat's period in Gaza,
when he was commuting between Gaza and Ramallah, that he was much
more trusting, much more reliant on the Egypt connection, whereas
the West Bank continued to have some Jordanian connections. Jordan
was the breathing space, and so on. The fact that the heart of
the struggle between Hamas and Fatah is Gaza has increased the
level of Egyptian influence, because that connection predates
the current crisis.
I am not sure whether the two Foreign Office
officials were really saying this earlier. They said that Egypt
was vital to getting the process off the ground, and I would agree
with that. They said that Egypt's influence was useful, and I
would have difficulty quarrelling with that, but it is slightly
less than it was.
Ms. Bar-Yaacov: Omar Suliman,
the Egyptian security chief, has done and is continuing to do
an incredible job in Gaza. The involvement is vast. Saudi Arabia
has a political role to play in the zone of influence, but it
is far away. Egypt borders with Gazaand only Egypt borders
with Gaza, because the border with Israel is not always open.
Let us not forget that Egypt occupied Gaza between 1948 and 1967
and it knows every inch of it. If there is a spillover of the
violence from Gaza, it will spill over into Egypt. It could also
spill over into Israel, but it would definitely spill over into
Egypt. Egypt's interest in containing and dealing with Hamas is
such that the relationship with the Islamic brotherhood will not
spill over and fuel further extremism at its end.
Egypt is extremely involved and has an
extremely positive and ongoing role to play. It is currently training
Fatah forces. It has an ongoing security role, as well as a political
process role to play all the time. That was diminished only in
the grandiose political sense that the Mecca agreement was not
reached in Cairo or Sharm El-Sheikh, but Mecca. Okay, it is more
to do with pride than practicality, but I would not underestimate
the tremendous role that it has to play. There is a lack of satisfaction
about its monitoring of the tunnels, which no one has mentioned.
All the ammunition into Gaza is coming through tunnels in Egypt
that are being dug all the time. It is important to monitor that
issue, and more can be done on that front.
Chairman: Final question.
Q81 Mr. Purchase: Egypt's main goals
in the region and the peace process are changing all the time.
What do you think its main goals are now? Have they changed?
Ms. Bar-Yaacov: I do not think
that they have changed. My view is that Egypt is very interested
in Israeli-Palestinian peace first and foremost because it has
a border with Gaza. It has a peace treaty with Israel and it would
like to see an Israel-Palestinian peace accord. I do not think
that its role has necessarily diminished. It has continued. It
is part of the so-called Arab quartet, but within that quartet
it is certainly taking the leading day-to-day role in negotiations
between the different Palestinian factions.
Q82 Chairman: Finally, would you
say the same for the Jordanian position? Has Jordon's position
changed given that it has a peace treaty with Israel, too?
Dr. Hollis: It was never the same
as the Egyptian treaty.
Q83 Chairman: I know that, but we
heard King Abdullah here in November giving a very bleak, pessimistic
assessment of what was happening in the region. I should be interested
to know whether you feel that Jordan and Egypt are broadly on
the same lines?
Dr. Hollis: No, I do not think
so at all. There is also a prestige and status issue for the Egyptians.
In terms of the struggle to establish legitimacy in an Arab state
system, Egypt was always the senior figure, but it has dropped
back. In so far as the Saudis are really making the running with
the new peace process, that will give the Egyptians mixed feelings.
The Jordanians, especially since King Abdullah
succeeded King Hussein, have been pretty modest about their role
in the region. At the time of King Hussein, Arab leaders saw him
as having ideas above his station because he had such an impoverished
little country, which somebody else had designed for him and implanted
him in. Contempt and competition among leaders can be terrifying
when you pick up on the vibes. I think that Jordan is playing
a relatively modest role, but now we sense that Jordan is in the
position of being so much in the American orbit, and so useful
to the American regional position, including intelligence, that
the Government and therefore the king have a tremendous struggle
to reconcile that with the feelings of ordinary Jordanians. The
east bankers are Arab nationalists to the core, and it is a question
only of whether they are more of the Iraqi branch of Arab nationalism,
the Syrian branch or the south Arabian branch. They are pro-Palestinian
in an Arab nationalist sense but suspicious of Jordanians of Palestinian
They can all agree to be anti-American,
and there was quite a lot of support among Jordanians for al-Qaeda-type
terrorism in Iraq as a result of the invasion, which they saw
very much as an invasion, until al-Qaeda sadly struck inside Jordan
and killed Jordanians and Palestinians at a wedding party in the
process. Since then, there has been a revisiting of what the extremist
forces are, but it should be no surprise that King Abdullah said
long before it became fashionable, "Beware the Shi'a crescent."
His fear is that the unravelling of Iraq will unravel Jordan and
that it will be caught up in this regional meltdown.
If the American endeavour in Iraq, with
or without the Brits, fails, and there is a Shi'a-dominated, Iranian-influenced,
largely religious Government in Iraq for the next five years or
so, and in the process ethnic cleansing continues in Iraq and
the Americans are anxious to get out fearing that they cannot
do much more to hold the situation, Jordanians will feel that
they have to help the Sunni Arabs of Iraq, as will the Saudis.
The Syrians will be confused as to whom they should be helping,
but they will probably feel the same as the Jordanians and the
Saudis. Jordanians can foresee themselves having to get much more
involved in the future of Iraq in support of characters who could,
in fact, ultimately turn on them.
In the past 24 hours the Jordanians have
shut the border to Iraqi refugeesthey already have 1 million
of them. They change the identity of a country that has only 4.5
million or 5 million people in the first place. The Jordanians
are trying to retain control of their destiny, which is slightly
more alarming for them than Egypt's position, which is to try
to retain its status.
Ms. Bar-Yaacov: Just briefly,
Jordan is caught up in so many problems of its own that the role
that it can play is not as great as it would have liked, but the
role is always positive.
Chairman: I would like to thank you both
for your evidence this afternoon. It has been extremely valuable.
We have touched on a lot of complex areas and, as I said in the
earlier session, we will be visiting the region and members of
the Committee will be in most of countries that have featured
in our questioning in the next few weeks. This has been extremely
useful. Thank you very much.
Dr. Hollis: Have a lovely time.
Mr. Purchase: You said it as though you
Chairman: Thank you.