Remember PaliLeaks? With all the current commotion in Egypt, last week’s release
by Al Jazeera of Palestinian documents disclosing what went on behind closed
doors between Israeli, Palestinian and American negotiators over the last number
of years seems suddenly so distant.
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In light of a possible revolution in
Egypt – a revolution that overnight could completely alter Israel’s strategic
situation – much of what is contained in those documents seems abruptly passé,
yesterday’s news, stale, and no longer relevant.
For instance, a
recurring topic – and a source of disagreement – was whether an international
force or Israel would monitor the eastern border of a future Palestinian state,
with the Palestinians insisting on a third party, and Israel angling for a
presence along the Jordan River.
According to senior European sources (
not mentioned in the PaliLeaks documents), US General James Jones, in the waning
days of the Olmert government, got Israel to agree that a US-led NATO force
would be stationed along the Jordan River.
One of the Palestinian
negotiators’ biggest frustrations over the last few months, according to these
same sources, was that Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu was walking back
principles that they thought were already agreed upon, and revisiting issues
that the Palestinians thought were already settled.
One of these issues
was the notion of an Israeli presence both on the Jordan River, and also on the
West Bank hills immediately overlooking Jerusalem and the coastal
If Netanyahu was insisting on an Israeli security presence along
the Jordan River before the events in Cairo, he will assuredly be even more
adamant about it now.
The instability gripping Israel’s neighbor in the
south, as well as Lebanon in the north, will only strengthen Netanyahu’s default
setting – that any peace accord must be preceded by ironclad security
arrangements on the ground, and that those security arrangements can’t be a
reliance on any third party. Israel must be present.
When the protestors
in Tunisia led to the overthrow there earlier this month of President Zine
el-Abidine Ben Ali, there were those who pooh-poohed a domino effect into other
countries in the region, including Egypt, saying that the political culture in
Egypt was different, as was President Hosni Mubarak’s relationship with the
army, and his overall authority.
Egypt is not Tunisia, went the
And now that Egypt is on the verge of a revolution,
there are those cautioning not to extrapolate from there to Jordan, saying that
Jordan is not Egypt.
But what if it is? What if the events in Egypt, as
worrisome as they are for Israel, spread to Jordan, and massive demonstrators
threaten the Hashemite Kingdom? What if King Abdullah II is overthrown, and
replaced not by Jeffersonian democrats, but Iranian-backed Islamic radicals
peering through gunsights on the other side of the Jordan River? Who is Israel
going to want on the west bank of the Jordan, US-led NATO forces, or Israeli
ones? While a few months ago this scenario might have been readily dismissed as
the paranoid ranting of the extreme right wing, times have quickly
If the PaliLeaks documents show that the Palestinians were
insisting that Israel clear out of major settlement blocs such as Ma’aleh Adumim
and Ariel, how much more difficult are things going to be now – in light of what
is happening in Egypt – when Israel is sure to demand more adamantly than ever a
security presence along the Jordan River.
Twenty days ago, before
Egyptian jet planes were flying low over Cairo and tanks were tumbling through
the streets, Netanyahu said in a speech to foreign journalists in Jerusalem that
an Israeli presence in the Jordon Valley “is absolutely required for
demilitarization” of a Palestinian state.
“We left Lebanon, Hizbullah
came in,” Netanyahu said. “We left Gaza, and there was an Egyptian army that was
there and is still there, and Iran walked in. And we need to have some
safeguards that we don’t repeat this a third time, because obviously the
security of the nation is at stake, and the security of our people, the security
of peace, is at stake.
“There’s a country with which we had tremendously
close relations,” Netanyahu said. “We had the exchange of the leaderships; there
were exchanges between our security forces; economic trade. That country is
called Iran. And that changed overnight.
“There’s another country with
which we had flowering peaceful relations: meeting of leaders; joint military
exercises; 400,000 Israeli tourists a year – that country is called
“The conclusion of a formal peace doesn’t guarantee the
continuation of the peace,” he said. “But the security arrangements that are
there, they help buttress the peace and they also protect us in case peace
unravels, in case Iran walks in or tries to walk in.”
If that’s what
Netanyahu said then – a mere five days after having a “lengthy, friendly and
comprehensive discussion” with Mubarak in Sharm el-Sheikh – imagine what he would
say about the matter today.
Which all doesn’t bode particularly well for
the diplomatic process, because if the Palestinians were not willing to accede
to an Israeli presence in Efrat two years ago, how likely are they to now agree
to an Israeli armed presence in the Jordan Valley? This is not a matter of Egypt
sneezing, as the saying goes, and Israel catching a cold.
Rather, this is
a matter of Egypt having a heart attack, and the parameters of everything