Continued from page 1

The Brotherhood’s top priority is believed to be to solidify its political domination within Egypt. A confrontation with Israel and the United States over the peace deal could endanger that.

Banned for decades, the Brotherhood is the strongest party in the first parliament since the Feb. 11 fall of Hosni Mubarak, after winning nearly 50 percent of the vote in recent elections.

But the group is deeply entrenched in its anti-Israeli ideology and can’t be seen by its supporters to be throwing that away.

Like the general Egyptian public, Brotherhood cadres were taught since childhood in the group’s “educational curriculum” that its elders carried arms and fought Israel in 1948 to liberate the Palestinian land.

The Brotherhood opposed the peace deal with Israel in 1979, and President Anwar Sadat jailed some of its members in retaliation.

“If party leaders were spotted making contacts with Israel, it will cause upheaval inside the group,” said Tharwat Kherbawi, a former Brother. “The Brotherhood fears its base, raised and fed on hatred of Israel. They have been told for decades that any deal with Israel is corrupt.”

In 2007, Essam el-Arian, now deputy head of the Brotherhood’s Freedom and Justice political party, raised an uproar within the group when he told a newspaper the Brotherhood, if it came to power, was ready to recognize Israel and respect peace deals.

In the face of the furor, he said that while the group doesn’t recognize Israel, it must act with “political realism” on Israel once in government.

Last month, officials from the Brotherhood’s Freedom and Justice Party met with several top U.S. officials, including Sen. John F. Kerry, Massachusetts Democrat and chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee.

The group’s website showed rare pictures of the meeting, with party member Saad el-Katatni - who was tapped to be parliament speaker - shaking hands with Mr. Kerry, who patted his shoulder warmly.

Party leader Mohammed Morsi told Mr. Kerry that Egypt “respects the conventions and treaties that were signed,” according to a statement by the group.

In Washington, the State Department said the Obama administration has received assurances that the Brotherhood respects the accords.

The central leadership of the Brotherhood mother organization quickly distanced itself. The group’s deputy leader, Rashid Bayoumi, denied that any assurances were given and vowed that Brotherhood members would not sit down with Israel.

“We don’t recognize Israel at all. This is an enemy, an occupier, a rapist and a criminal,” he said.

Two weeks later, the group gave a warmer welcome to Hamas Prime Minister Ismail Haniyeh during his first visit outside the Gaza Strip since the militant group overran the territory in 2007. He was received at the Brotherhood’s main headquarters by a line of young men and veiled women waving green Hamas flags.

Story Continues →