No, Egyptian uprising won’t hurt the peace process

Posted: February 1st, 2011 | Author: | Filed under: In the News, The Settlements, the US and us | Tags: , , , | 3 Comments »

(simply because there is no such thing)

Time to come up with new excuses? (photo: Pete Souza / white house)

Time to come up with new excuses? (photo: Pete Souza / white house)

Yesterday, Politico’s Laura Rozen posted this tweet:

On Isr/Egypt, official tells me while Egypt unrest demos status quo unstable, makes Isr hunker down, less willing to “take risks for peace.

Hey, wasn’t that the Israeli reply to… just about any event in recent history?

Turmoil in Lebanon? Further proof that Israel can’t take risks. The publication of the Palestine Papers? PM Netanyahu concludes that he could go on building in East Jerusalem. Unilateralism? it’ s bad for peace. International community’s involvement? You guessed it: A disaster for Peace.

Avigdor Lieberman, the Israeli Foreign Minister, says we shouldn’t negotiate with President Abu-Mazen because he has no real authority over his people. And we shouldn’t, god forbid, allow new elections in the Palestinian territories, because the Hamas would only get stronger. A united, Fatah-Hamas government, is clearly out of the question, and if the Palestinian president tries to go to the UN, we have the answer ready: the US should veto it, because it’s bad for peace.

Until recently, Israel used to say that democracy in the Arab world is the key to peace and stability. This is Netanyahu in 1993 (h/t Aeyal Gross):

“Here, in a nutshell, is the main problem of achieving peace in the Middle East: Except for Israel, there are no democracies. None of the Arab regimes is based on free elections, a free press, civil rights and the rule of law”

Now Netanyahu is talking about a “tremendous threat” from the changes in Egypt, and the Israeli Right claims that the Arabs “are not prepared” for democracy and that the reform movement puts the peace process in danger. It seems that even if all Palestinians join the Likud tomorrow, an Israeli minister would explain why this is bad for the peace process, and three hundred House representatives would sign a letter condemning Arab Rejectionism. All in the name of peace, of course.

The truth is there is no peace process, and it’s not because of the Palestinians, the Syrians, the Iranians, the reform movement or the coaching staff of the Minnesota Vikings. There is simply no point in talks with Israel right now. The Israeli government refuses to commit to evacuating settlements, refuses to discuss borders or even open maps and refuses to talk to Syria. In recent months, some ministers wanted to come out publicly with a “peace plan” that would leave the Palestinians with something like 60 percent of the West Bank, but even that was too radical for this government.

Two years after he returned to the PM office, Netanyahu has yet to come up with some sort of practicl offer for the two state solution – the vision he claimed to have adopted. Perhaps this is asking too much of him. All Netanyahu wants is to engage in meaningless talks that would go on forever, because that’s his only way of handling the mounting international pressure.

For that exact reason, the only way to push things forward is to apply even more pressure on Jerusalem.

Israelis are not hostile to the Egyptian revolution, they are simply anxious

Posted: January 30th, 2011 | Author: | Filed under: In the News | Tags: , , | 2 Comments »

There are many Israeli positions that should make one angry these days. The reaction to the Egyptian uprising is not one of them

Protest in Egypt, Jan 26 2011 (photo: Al-Jazeera / via flickr)

Protest in Egypt, Jan 26 2011 (photo: Al-Jazeera / via flickr)

This weekend, several writers on +972 Magazine claimed that Israelis are generally hostile to the Egyptian revolution and that they prefer to side with President Hosni Mubarak (examples here, here and here). I believe this to be inaccurate, maybe simply untrue.

Yes, recent events took Israeli pundits, experts, and leaders by surprise, and in the first days of protest, they tended to estimate that the demonstrations would soon die out and the president would survive. This is the reason for some of the public comments that seemed to be downplaying the importance of protest. But frankly, who wasn’t surprised? No one in the West imagined that Mubarak’s regime was so fragile. The determination of the protesters found the Egyptian opposition leaders themselves unready, and it took them a day or two before they joined the protesters (or three days, in the case of the Muslim Brotherhood). Blaming Jerusalem alone for not recognizing the full potential of the uprising is ridiculous.

I was watching Israeli networks over the past few days, and I found their coverage to be pretty similar to those on CNN or Sky, and more balanced and professional than FOX News. Channel 1 had a reporter in Cairo broadcasting live on Friday, and he was clearly exited by the protest. In other TV stations, there were lively exchanges between those who saw the risks involved in an Egyptian revolution (these were mainly the military correspondents) and those who were impressed and even moved by the Egyptian cry for freedom.

Israelis never liked President Mubarak very much. Unlike the late Jordanian King Hussein, Mubarak was perceived as cold and aloof, even patronizing. To be sure, nobody thought of him as “our guy.” Mubarak was simply the person you do business with.

There is a consensus in Israel that peace with Egypt is the greatest strategic asset the country has, after its special relationship with the US. Except for some on the extreme Right, the dominant view is that Israel should do business with whoever will be calling the shots in Cairo. Mubarak kept the peace – so Israeli leaders trusted him. The same could happen with his successor.

On Channel two on Friday, Tzvi Mazal, a rightwing diplomat and former ambassador to Egypt, said that the revolution is a blessing for both Israel and the Egyptian people (today, in an op-ed in Maariv, Mazal claimed that the peace treaty with Israel is not at risk, and that the prospect of an Islamic regime resulting from the revolution are very low). Other pundits expressed concern over the possibility of a Muslim takeover in Egypt. Following Hamas’ rise in Gaza and recent moves by Hezbollah in Lebanon, that is the main Israeli fear. I think Israelis tend to exaggerate these risks, but I can understand the reasons for them. If there is any hostility to the Egyptian revolution in Israel, I think it is because of these fears, and not due to a patronizing attitude towards the Arab world, as some writers suggested (though this sentiment might also exist among some people).

Regardless of the revolution’s outcome, Egypt will remain a great nation, and one of the region’s major powers. Many Israelis understand and respect that. Right now, I feel that the dominant view is that it is for the Egyptian people to decide who rules them. To be honest, I think that a full embrace of the revolution by the current Israeli government would have embarrassed Egyptian opposition leaders more than it could encourage them. I actually believe that the government did the right thing in keeping mostly silent on these events.

On a personal level, when I think of Egypt, my grandparents are the first to come to my mind. Born in Basra, Iraq, they were both fans of Egyptian culture. At home, they watched Egyptian films which they borrowed from a special video store in our town. They listened to Egyptian music and spoke Arabic with their friends. Had they lived to see this moment, I think they would have been thrilled and exited by the images coming from Cairo.

Everything has changed

Posted: June 22nd, 2009 | Author: | Filed under: In the News | Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Comments Off

UPDATE: I’m going on a vacation, so I probably won’t be posting for the next 10 days or so.

cross-psoted with FPW.

Let’s admit it – there is almost no reliable news as to what is actually happening in Iran. The pictures from the last couple of days don’t show the mass demonstrations of the first few days following the presidential elections. It seems that the number of protesters dropped from hundreds of thousands to just thousands and even hundreds. If this is so, it could be a bad sign for the reformist camp. On the other hand, the political heat is still on: Friday’s warnings from he supreme leader Ali Khamenei not only failed to calm the streets, but seemed to toughen the position of the reformist leaders – Mousavi, Karubi, and above all, Rafsanjani. Again, most of the political drama is probably happening backstage, so we can’t know anything for sure.

Western leaders – probably under public pressure – are starting to take a more committed stand on the reformists’ side. Germany’s Angela Merkel took a firm position in support of the opposition, but the UK government and the American administration still chose their words very carefully. As I wrote before, too-overt support statements could end up doing do more harm than good, but on the other hand, when Iranians are calling “death to the dictator”, the careful language of president Obama seems somewhat out of sync with his inspiring speech in Cairo.

One thing is very clear right now – the Iranian “Islamic revolution” model has suffered a tremendous blow. Even if the Iranian leadership can sort the mess without sharing power with the reformists (something which doesn’t seem very likely now), it is clear that the system as a whole doesn’t enjoy the legitimacy that everyone though it did. The Iranian leadership will have to be a lot more careful from now on, and concentrate on internal stability. It is not sure how much effort it will put on exporting the revolution, and on supporting Hamas and Hizbullah.

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The Right Offers No Solutions

Posted: February 4th, 2009 | Author: | Filed under: In the News, The Right | Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , | Comments Off

There has been some talk recently about a “three states solution” to the Palestinian problem. John Bolton, George Bush’s ambassador to the UN, promoted this idea in an op-ed in the Washington Post and Daniel Pipes, president of The Middle East Forum, wrote similar things in the Jerusalem post.

The idea is simple: instead of a forming a Palestinian state, Jordan and Egypt will regain control over the West Bank and Gaza for a generation or two, or even permanently, thus enabling Israel to evacuate these areas without putting its security at risk. The blogger Mary Madigan called it “the no-state solution”.

I won’t go to length in explaining why this idea is a waste of time. It would be enough to say that both Jordan and Egypt won’t have it, mainly for the internal problems it might cause them; the radical Islam is the main threat to the presidency of Hosni Mubarak in Egypt, which is why he won’t want to add Gaza’s Hamas to his list of enemies from home; and in Jordan, the Palestinians were close to bringing down the regime in the early 70′s. And as for the issue of Israel’s security, there is no reason to believe that Arab soldiers will do a better job chasing rocket launchers and suicide bombers than we do now.

But my real problem with this line of thought– and this goes for Thomas Friedman’s “5-State Solution” in the NYT as well – is that we don’t lack solutions for the Middle East, but rather the political power and will to carry them out.

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