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Judaism Two Jewish Writers: Perspectives On Egypt And Israel


1947-2014 (Archived)
Jun 17, 2004
Forwarded by forum member Tejwant Singh ji Malik

Egypt: Why is Israel so Blind?

MJ Rosenberg

The last several decades have shown that left-leaning politicos have been right about the nuances of the peace process.

Those of us in the pro-Israel, pro-peace camp do not enjoy being proven right — although we invariably are.

Our standard recommendation to Israel is that it should move quickly to achieve agreements with the Arab states and the stateless Palestinians before it is too late.

And the Israeli response is that there is no urgency to make peace — except on Israeli terms — because Israel is strong and the Arabs are weak.

The most egregious example of this phenomenon comes from Egypt, where in 1971 President Anwar Sadat offered to begin negotiations toward peace in exchange for a two-mile wide Israeli withdrawal from the east bank of the Suez Canal, which Israel had captured along with the rest of the Sinai Peninsula in the 1967 war.

Learning from history

The Nixon administration told the Israeli government to explore the idea because Sadat was intent on going to war if he did not get his territory back.

The peace camp in Israel and its allies here urged Israel to follow Nixon's advice and hear Sadat out. The lobby, of course, told Nixon to mind his own business.

As for the Israeli cabinet, it told Nixon's emissary, Assistant Secretary of State Joseph Sisco, that it had no interest in discussing Egypt's offer. It voted for keeping all of the Sinai Peninsula and sending Egypt a simple message: no. After all, the Egyptians had shown just four years earlier that they were no match for the IDF.

Two years later, the Egyptians attacked, and within hours all of Israel's positions along the canal were overrun and its soldiers killed. By the time the war ended, Israel had lost 3,000 soldiers and almost the state itself. And then, a few years later, it gave up the entire Sinai anyway - not just the two-mile strip Egypt had demanded in 1971.

The peace camp was proven right. But I don't recall anyone being happy about it. On the contrary, we were devastated. 3,000 Israelis (and thousands more Egyptians) were killed in a war that might have been prevented if the Israeli government had simply agreed to talk.

Reneging on Oslo

This pattern has been repeated over and over again. The Oslo Israeli-Palestinian peace process, which gave Israel its safest and most optimistic years in its history, collapsed after Prime Ministers Binyamin Netanyahu and Ehud Barak repeatedly refused to live up to its terms.

During the Oslo process, Yasir Arafat's Palestinian Authority did what it was supposed to do: it combated terrorism so effectively (Hamas had launched a series of deadly bus bombings to thwart the peace process) that Netanyahu himself telephoned Arafat to thank him. By 1999, terrorism was effectively defeated in Israel. It was an amazing time, with the free and safe movement of goods and people from Israel to the West Bank and back again - not the way it is today with a towering wall separating Israelis from Palestinians and dividing Palestinians on one side from Palestinians on the other.

But the temporary end of terrorism did not achieve the transfer of any actual territory to the Palestinians. Netanyahu and Barak nickeled and dimed the Palestinians to death - actually, to the death of the peace process, which for all intents and purposes is now buried. By the time Clinton convened the Camp David summit in 2000, any good will between the two sides was gone.

One could go on and on. According to President Bill Clinton, Prime Minister Ehud Barak could have had peace with Syria in 2000 until, at the very last minute, Barak chickened out. He was afraid of the settlers. The opportunity for full peace with Syria, which would almost certainly also mean peace with Lebanon, as well as a lowering of tensions with Syria's ally, Iran, came again in December 2008.

Missed opportunity

The Turks had brokered a deal with the Syrians that Prime Minister Olmert celebrated with a five-hour Ankara dinner with Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan. Olmert went home. The Turks waited for Israel's final approval.

And then this is what happened next, according to Israeli New York University professor Alon Ben-Meir:

To the utter surprise and dismay of the Turkish government, five days after Olmert returned to Jerusalem, Israel began a massive incursion into Gaza. Ankara felt betrayed by the Israeli action and deceived by Olmert's failure to inform the Turkish Prime Minister of Israel's pending operation of which he, as the Prime Minister, was obviously fully aware of and could have disclosed to his Turkish counterpart while he was still in Ankara. For Mr. Erdogan, the problem was compounded not only because he did not hear from Olmert the message of peace which he eagerly anticipated, but a 'declaration' of war with all of its potential regional consequences.

It is hard to describe the depth of the Turks' disappointment, not only because they were left in the dark, but because a major breakthrough in the Arab-Israeli peace process of historical magnitude was snatched away.

This incident was a major first step toward the collapse of Israeli-Turkish friendship, which - along with the relationship with Mubarak's Egypt - was the cornerstone of Israel's sense of security.

Who's left? Jordan. However, Israel consistently ignores King Abdullah's demands that it end the occupation of the West Bank and the blockade of Gaza.

And then there is the US. President Obama put his prestige on the line to achieve an end to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict but all Israel did in response was to ridicule him and reject every suggestion the president made - no matter that Israel receives more US aid than any other country, by far.

Anyone who cares about Israel at all has to be appalled by these repeated blunders - all backed by AIPAC and its cutouts in Congress.

Future steps

When will Israel's supposed friends learn?

Maybe never. In today's New York Times, Yossi Klein Halevi, an influential Israeli journalist, expresses fear, almost terror, about the Egyptian revolution. He tells a "grim assumption":

It is just a matter of time before the only real opposition group in Egypt, the Islamist Muslim Brotherhood, takes power. Israelis fear that Egypt will go the way of Iran or Turkey, with Islamists gaining control through violence or gradual co-optation.

Note how Halevi conflates Turkey with Iran (a ridiculous comparison based only on the fact that democratic Turkey opposes Israel's blockade of Gaza) and then adds Egypt to the list.

And then there is the latest fright word, the Muslim Brotherhood. You would never know it from Halevi, but the Brotherhood is non-violent, has always opposed al-Qaeda, and condemned 9/11 and other acts of international terrorism.

Yes, they are an Islamic organization which would prefer an Egypt based on Islamic law, much as the Shas party - a significant part of Israel's ruling coalition - pushes for an Israel based on its extreme interpretation of Torah.

Halevi (and other lobby types) may want the Muslim Brotherhood to be terrorists but, sadly for them, that is not true. And, besides, the January 25 revolution is not a Muslim Brotherhood revolution. They support it - almost all Egyptians do - but that does not make it theirs. Nor do they claim otherwise.

The bottom line: I am happy for the Egyptian people, but I am sad for Israel - not because it is genuinely threatened by this revolution but because Israel's leaders seem determined to turn the revolution against them.

One can only hope that Israel and its lobby wake up. I hate always being proven right when it comes to Israel. I care about it too much.

MJ Rosenberg is a Senior Foreign Policy Fellow at Media Matters Action Network. The above article first appeared in Foreign Policy Matters, a part of the Media Matters Action Network.

The views expressed in this article are the author's own and do not necessarily reflect Al Jazeera's editorial policy.



1947-2014 (Archived)
Jun 17, 2004
Israel's Options after Mubarak
Daniel Levy

After almost thirty years, President Hosni Mubarak is gone.

For the people of Egypt and especially those with the courage to have taken to the streets it is no doubt a day that is impossible to put into words. For the rest of us, a day of awe, celebration and inspiration.

Some, however, have probably not summoned up too broad a smile today – the other non-democratic regimes of the Middle East for instance. Interestingly, Israel too belongs on that list of the "not-exactly-thrilled".

Israel has long made much of its claim to being the only democracy in the Middle East, it now seems that the claim was more an aspiration rather than a lamentation. Israel has been clinging dearly to the Mubarak regime, and encouraging others - notably the US - to do likewise.

Despite claims to the contrary, Mubarak's Egypt was far from being a regional linchpin for security and stability, for moderate governance, or even for economic success. The country's harsh security regime produced terrorists and a rallying cry for extremists. Its authoritarianism made a mockery of the tag "moderate," and its economy is today a quarter the size of Turkey's, though both countries
have populations of similar size.

Israeli interests

In fact America's previous role as a guarantor of the Mubarak regime should be considered counterproductive to American interests, especially since the end of the Cold War.

But Mubarak's Egypt was a lynchpin for something else – namely Israel's ability to pursue a hard-line regional policy with near impunity.

When Binyamin Netanyahu (or his predecessors) needed to revive his "man of peace" credentials he could always pop over to Sharm el-Sheikh for a hug-in with his friend Hosni. When Israel needed the Arab world to turn a blind eye to entrenched occupation and settlements or harsh military adventurism, then it would be Hosni taking the lead in diluting any Arab response.

For years that strategy paid off for the now-deposed Egyptian leader – it made Mubarak relevant, even indispensable for successive US governments desperately trying to balance their indulgence for outlandish Israeli behavior with a desire to retain some semblance of credibility in the Arab world. The latter of course never happened, but America was too busy listening to unelected leaders rather than to their publics.

Trying to keep this equation in play is what brings many Israeli officials (and others in the region, the US and beyond) to now push for continued military, as opposed to civilian control.

Mutual benefits

As of today, the new equation is simple and it is this - those governing Egypt will henceforth have to be more responsive to the public will.

Some have suggested that Israeli concern is focused on avoiding a revocation of the Egyptian-Israeli peace treaty. It is not. Insisting on Egyptian adherence to the peace treaty with Israel is a legitimate position, has international support, and also accords with both Israeli and Egyptian interests.

The treaty has saved lives on both sides, neither of which relishes the prospect of renewed military conflagration. The treaty can be sustained.

Israel’s real concerns lie elsewhere.

There were a set of regional policies pursued by the Mubarak regime which lacked popular legitimacy. These included the closure imposed on Gaza, support for the Iraq war and for heightened bellicosity toward Iran, and playing ceremonial chaperone to an Israeli-Palestinian peace process that became farcical and discredited.

Arguably these policies were also misguided for Israel. For an Egypt reflecting the popular will, such policies make absolutely no sense and are therefore likely to be discontinued.

Dignity in rebellion

Yes, the January 25 democracy protests were about economic conditions, domestic governance issues and freedom, but a part of the democracy deficit in Egypt was also a dignity deficit, and these Israeli designed policies for the region appeared undignified and anti-Arab to the Egyptian public.

When Egypt first made peace with Israel it was criticised at home and in the region for going it alone, for abandoning the Palestinian and broader Arab cause. Had the Israeli-Egyptian peace been followed by a regional peace then this narrative would likely have disappeared, but in the absence of comprehensive peace it was a critique that seemed to be vindicated.

To the 1978 Camp David Accords was attached an annex entitled "A Framework for Peace in the Middle East," which included a commitment for Israeli withdrawal from the Palestinian territories and for negotiating final status within five years. That of course never happened.

What did happen is that the 10,000 Israeli settlers living in the West Bank when that accord was signed have become over 300,000 today.

Indeed, whether by design or not, the peace treaty with Egypt ushered in the era of the Israeli "free hand" in the region. Even though it has not delivered real security for Israel and has encouraged an Israeli hubris that can be both dangerous and self-destructive, that era of hegemony is something that Israelis are instinctively uncomfortable about losing.

Raw power

A popular Israeli refrain is that the peace with Egypt has neutralised any serious Arab military option vis-a-vis Israel. That the same cannot be said in reverse understandably irks the Arab street. Since signing the accord with Egypt, Israel has conducted several large-scale military campaigns against Lebanon and against the Palestinians, launched bombing raids against Syria and Iraq, and conducting high-profile assassinations in Jordan and the UAE - and that is only a partial list.

This deep regional disequilibrium, one that became more rooted under Mubarak's Egypt, is, understandably, both unpopular and unacceptable to a majority of Arab public opinion.

Maintaining the peace treaty with Egypt has morphed over time. 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. Thus far Israeli establishment voices have discussed two options. One has been to dig in, to fear-monger, to convince the West that Israel is its outpost of stability in a sea of hostility, and to hope the military stays in power and democracy is tamed.

New options

In the words of Prime Minister Netanyahu, "might" is the answer. The second approach advocates an urgent return to the peace process. Neither will work. The first will exacerbate Israel's predicament, and the second is too little too late.

Israel has a third option, albeit one that is dramatic and out of synch with today's zeitgeist. It would be perhaps Israel's best and last chance for a two-state solution. While it would involve cutting Israel’s losses, it would also have the potential of unleashing huge benefits - economic, security and more, for an Israel accepted as part of the tapestry of a democratic Middle East.

Broadly speaking, this option has three components. First, an Israeli withdrawal to the pre-1967 armistice lines almost without preconditions or exceptions - minor, equitable and agreed-upon land swaps and international security guarantees could fall into the latter category.

Second, Israel should undertake an act of genuine acknowledgement of the dispossession and displacement visited on the Palestinian people, including compensating refugees where appropriate, and thus set in motion the possibility of reconciliation. Third, there needs to be a clear Israeli commitment to full equality for all of its citizens, notably including removal of the structural barriers to full civil rights for the Palestinian Arab minority.

Admittedly, this is a path less traveled and one likely to remain so, and while the alternatives to this path may well include democracy in the region, they could preclude a future for the State of Israel.

Much will also depend on the next steps that Palestinian leaders take. It would be a strategic error of momentous proportions to revive the old and failed modalities of the peace process. Albeit both belatedly and driven by external developments, it is time for a reunified Palestinian national movement and a renewed and relevant Palestinian strategy for freedom to emerge.

Daniel Levy directs the Middle East Task Force at the New America Foundation and is an editor of the Middle East Channel at foreignpolicy.com.

The views expressed in this article are the author's own and do not necessarily reflect Al Jazeera's editorial policy.

Sep 27, 2008
Very informative posts SPN' ji, it is staggering the amount of money America gives Israel yet they somehow feel to be very ignorant. Things are supposed to be getting better but apparently they have got far far worse in that region. It is a worrying time.



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