This moment, when the uprising in Egypt projects out to streets and rulers’
palaces throughout the Arab world, and the contagious demonstrations could
spring up at any moment in another country, this is precisely the right time to
return to the negotiating table with the Palestinians.
Yes, we have shown
maturity and political loyalty to President Hosni Mubarak. We’ve also not missed
an opportunity to explain how volatile and worrisome the situation is. But this
is not enough. As the ring of isolation around us grows tighter, we must not
forget our closest neighbor, with whom we have no peace process.
near future, the government in Egypt will be busy with internal affairs. Whoever
emerges as the new leader must first stabilize his rule, learn the lessons and
rebuild governing institutions. Egypt played a significant role in our
negotiations with the Palestinians, even though we were not always content with
We also managed to reach unprecedented strategic
understandings with the Egyptians in dealing with Gaza-related security issues.
We must now assume that the Egyptian role in the process will fade, at least
Events in Egypt prove, not for the first time, that the US
administration does not understand our region, and that its actions could catch
us by surprise. It is precisely in such a situation that we must not sit back
and do nothing. No one will do the job for us; we must not rely on allies to
come to our aid, and must not assume that time is on our side. Under the new
circumstances, the status quo – that is, a stagnant peace process – is
I HAVE little praise for the American role in the
Egyptian turmoil – the same country that mediates between us and the
Palestinians. It has acted crudely. I’m shocked by Washington’s public stance,
with the president and secretary of state presiding over an anti-Mubarak agenda
almost as bad as Al-Jazeera’s. They seem to want to remove Mubarak, replace him
with his new vice president, Omar Suleiman, and dictate conditions relating to
democracy and human rights – all while ignoring the code of tradition in our
part of the world.
While the region’s dictatorial regimes must, of
course, be criticized, Washington’s behavior is worrisome. President Barack
Obama and Secretary of State Hillary Clinton look like elementary school
teachers disciplining the naughty pupil Mubarak. They don’t care if they’re
leading 85 million Egyptians toward chaos. They’re not thinking about the domino
effect in countries where the young generation has the same reasons to take to
the streets. Kick Zine El Abidine Ben Ali out of Tunis and Mubarak out of Cairo,
and don’t give any thought to how things will look afterward: unemployment,
street violence, Islamists seizing power, huge status gaps, a deep economic
crisis – and all this without a reasonable plan for the future.
not underestimate the role played behind the scenes by the Muslim Brotherhood in
It has branches in every Arab country, including the Palestinian
Authority. Suppose, for example, that we continue to do nothing regarding peace
with the Palestinians. Suppose we continue to evade. The next phase is already
at our doorstep: The Islamist movement is gaining strength, leveraging the slap
on the face that the US administration has delivered to Mubarak and his
Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas is also
concerned about this course of events. The streets of West Bank cities are
liable to fill with more angry demonstrators – their young generation is no less
frustrated than in Egypt – with Islamists conniving to drive the demonstrations
out of control.
Israel must take the initiative immediately. It should
seize the moment and renew talks with the PA. It should be determined to send
the message that it is serious about moving forward rather than looking for
excuses to blame the other side.
I suggest we be not only strong, but
smart, realistic and generous. Let’s get to work. This is our opportunity to
engage the Palestinians.
Whoever thinks the problem will just disappear
if we continue postponing negotiations is delusional.
We are here, they
are here, and the conflict hovers over our heads. The more we dodge and
postpone, the more liable we are to be taken by surprise. And no one promises us
happy surprises.The writer is Middle East editor at Yediot
This article was first published by www.bitterlemons.org, and
is reprinted with permission.