Commentary

Israel in a post-Mubarak Middle East

Middle East In Focus

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Following the resignation of Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak, experts and pundits began commenting on the significance of his departure, for Egypt and for the region as a whole.

In Israel, the views expressed reflect the sentiments of a people and government unsure about what the future holds. Nowhere is this angst on better display than in the pages of the daily Yedioth Ahronoth. Eitan Haber, for example, writes, “It is very possible that Hosni Mubarak was not an ideal leader…Yet Mubarak and his people understood something that 100 Obamas will not understand even 50 years from now: Mubarak and his regime were apparently the last obstacle in our conflicted world in the face of the Islamist tsunami, a predator that is already devouring some European states and turning the world into an increasingly less comfortable place to live.”

Nechama Duek, on the other hand, expresses the view that Arab democracy is good for Israel: “Some people would say that it is better for Israel to be surrounded by regimes where power is concentrated in the hands of one person. Yet this is far from being certain. Surprisingly, our policymakers again failed to learn the lesson from what happened in eastern Europe starting with the fall of the Berlin Wall and Glasnost in the Soviet Union.... Moreover, a peace treaty signed vis-à-vis a people is stronger and more durable than an agreement with a dictator.”

In a previous Yedioth Ahronoth article, Duek makes the argument that, regardless of what change might bring, “Mubarak [was] no friend of Israel.… We must admit that Egypt’s ousted president, Hosni Mubarak, did not have a pro-Israel agenda. He did not want to get close to Israel or be Israel’s friend. He mostly saw himself as the leader of the Egyptian people, a friend of the Egyptian people, and a leader of the Arab nation, which includes some states that hate Israel and dislike the notion of closer relations with it.”

Commentators in the daily Haaretz are of the view that, on balance, the Egyptian revolution was good for the Israelis. Meron Rapoport opines, “The speed by which the non-violent revolt toppled the Egyptian regime teaches us something else: the conflict and the occupation can be brought to an end much faster than anyone around here imagines. Tahrir Square will liberate us too.… Among the Palestinians, there is already evidence that there is an inclination toward diplomacy, as opposed to armed struggle. The triumph of the non-violent struggle in Egypt will likely turn this growing tendency among Palestinians into a mass phenomenon. That is very good news for Israelis who believe the conflict can be brought to an end without apocalyptic warfare.”

Khaled Diab of Haaretz also considers the revolutions as an opportunity: “The Egyptian revolution could usher in an era of freedom in the Middle East. But for it to do so, Arabs and Israelis must break free of the chains of prejudice, history and fear....For Israel, the Tunisian and Egyptian revolutions should be taken not as a threat but as an opportunity. Israelis need to realize that the road to their security lies not through Cairo, but through Jerusalem, the West Bank and Gaza.

The Jerusalem Post carried an editorial, however, written in the early days of the turmoil in Egypt, that betrays a preoccupation with what might happen in a post-Mubarak Egypt. Critical of Obama’s ultimatum for a timely and orderly transition to democracy, the editorial board expressed its doubts about the Muslim Brotherhood’s commitment to democracy:  “For a radical Islamic movement that openly states its intention to establish a state run in accordance with Sharia law and which views anyone who does not adhere to such a vision as an apostate, our bet is that rejection of liberalism is much more likely than acceptance. We hope the U.S. administration will recognize the dangers implicit in too speedy a transition to the trappings of democracy, without first laying the necessary groundwork. Gaza, Lebanon and Iraq are instructive lessons in the dangers of a faulty democratic process.”

Yossi Alpher, writing for bitterlemons.org, on the other hand, refuses to speculate on what the final lessons of the developments in the region are or might be. He cautions, “Because the events in Egypt continue to fall into the category of ‘revolutionary situation,’ we know they will affect Israeli-Palestinian relations, but we do not yet know in what way. We can only speculate....Sadly, to the extent that trends in this rethinking process are already evident, no one in Israel seems to be changing his/her mind: Israel's hawks are becoming more hawkish and its doves more dovish, particularly on the Palestinian issue....While Netanyahu can right now congratulate himself that the West's preoccupation with Egypt takes the peace-process heat off Israel, he himself has a whole series of immediate weighty consequences to deal with as a result of events in Egypt.”

In the Arab media, there seems to be near universal agreement that this is a defining moment for Israel and the Arab-Israeli peace process. The Saudi daily Arab News, commenting on the Israeli media’s concerns with the uprisings in Egypt, writes in an editorial, “The fact is that Arab freedom terrifies the Israelis. In the case of Egypt, they know they will find it extremely difficult to ignore its views and demands once a government in Cairo is freely chosen by the Egyptian people — and seen to be freely chosen. It will have a credibility and an authority in international eyes that it never had before. The pressure on Israel to negotiate seriously with it will be massive.”

Rabbi Michael Cohen also argues in the pages of Arab News, “With whatever government emerges in Egypt, we can be assured that without an agreement between Israel and the Palestinians the peace between Israel and Egypt will go from cold to frozen, and in Jordan the anti-normalization movement against Israel will only become stronger. It is for that very reason that Israel needs to seize the moment and actively engage the Palestinians in working toward an agreement.”

Likewise, Daniel Levy writes on Al Jazeera, “The peace process under Mubarak's tenure has ultimately entrenched occupation and settlements and made a mockery of its Arab participants. Post-transition Egypt is unlikely to continue playing this game. And without Mubarak's enthusiastic endorsement, the process itself is likely to further unravel. It is hard to imagine other Arab states leaping into this breach, or the Palestinians accepting 20 more years of peace-process humiliation, or indeed of Syria adopting the Egyptian model and signing a stand-alone peace agreement with Israel. Israel's strategic environment is about to change. Israel’s options would appear to be narrowing.”

Finally, some have reiterated their concern that Israel’s future is at risk. Moriel Rothman writes in Khaleej Times, “The window for the only solution I believe has any chance of bringing about meaningful, sustainable peace for Israelis and Palestinians is closing, and with it Israel’s future as a Jewish, democratic homeland....On the regional political front, the revolution in Egypt should certainly come as a reminder that political status-quos cannot be sustained indefinitely.”


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