Netanyahu Obama Mubarak 311.
(photo credit: mct)
Observing Egypt’s current upheaval, a writer for Makor Rishon has ventured the thought that no matter who takes power, “the lesson for Israel is clear: Arab regimes cannot be trusted.”
Above all, it is futile to pursue a modus vivendi with the Arabs based on the old formula of “land for peace.”
Is he right? Was the peace treaty with Egypt, involving a withdrawal from the Sinai in exchange for recognition, a mistake? At the time, only two members of Menachem Begin’s Likud-led cabinet – Ariel Sharon and Haim Landau – thought so. In a subsequent Knesset vote, Yitzhak Shamir, another Likud stalwart, abstained. The worry of these hard-liners was that trading land for peace, rather than “peace for peace,” would set a dangerous precedent when it came to negotiating over the Jewish heartland of Judea and Samaria.
Such objections seemed beside the point as the border with Egypt was opened, direct air-links were established between Tel Aviv and Cairo and Begin toured the pyramids. Nor did they gain further traction when dissident members of the Likud, including Geula Cohen and Moshe Shamir, bolstered by writer Shmuel Katz, an old Begin comrade-in-arms and briefly a member of his cabinet, broke away to establish the Tehiya or Renaissance party. Tehiya won three seats in the July 1981 elections, in 1982 vociferously opposed turning over the northern Sinai settlement of Yamit to Egyptian sovereignty, and went on to win five seats in 1984 before being supplanted in 1992 by a like-minded Tzomet.
With Egypt now tottering between autocracy and an unknown future, and
Israelis contemplating the possibility of an Iran-like takeover by the
Muslim Brotherhood, are the arguments of Tehiya about to gain new
resonance? In truth, Israeli officials had few illusions about the
nature of peace with Egypt, especially after the 1981 assassination of
the principal peacemaker, Anwar Sadat, and the ascendancy of Hosni
Mubarak. The latter in effect gave an ultimatum: Make peace with the PLO
on the PLO’s terms or be resigned to a cold “peace” with Egypt.
Though wary of Mubarak’s profligate military buildup (fueled partly by
US aid) and irritated by Egypt’s debilitating intrigues against Israel
at the UN, its duplicitous campaigning against Israel’s nuclear capacity
and its unwillingness to stop the smuggling of arms into Hamas-ruled
Gaza – not to mention the rank anti-Semitism of its state-controlled
media – policymakers nevertheless chose the cold peace.
No wonder. Providentially, Begin’s treaty was anchored in the
demilitarization of the Sinai, not in the durability of Egypt’s good
intentions. It was designed, in short, for the possibility that “a new
king would arise in Egypt who knew not Begin.”
As a result, for the past 30 years, Egypt has been neutralized as a
confrontation state. In those years, Israel defended itself against two
violent Palestinian uprisings, two Lebanon wars, Hamas’s aggression from
Gaza and Iran’s drive for the atomic bomb without having to divert
resources to the southern front. And there were diplomatic and economic
advantages to the relationship as well, including the fact that 40
percent of our natural gas used is imported from Egypt.
AS HAS been amply reported, Israelis are more anxious than most about
Mubarak’s fate. Foreign Minister Avigdor Lieberman has reportedly
instructed the country’s emissaries to say only that while democratic
change is desirable, violent revolutionary mayhem will undermine the
security of the entire region. Even President Shimon Peres, who in a
previous incarnation giddily foresaw a Scandinavia-like Middle East
emerging by spontaneous generation from the Oslo Accords, has now
asserted forthrightly that there may be worse things than the current
lack of democracy in Cairo, and a fanatic Islamist regime is one of
Is the lesson, then, that leaders should abandon the possibility of
reaching an accommodation with the Palestinians or Syrians? Not at all.
Rather, the cornerstones of any deal must take account of the
possibility that the successors of the peacemakers might reject peace.
For any future accord, the Egypt-Israel treaty, designed for a
worst-case scenario and providing demilitarization, strategic depth and
early-warning-plus-verification procedures, remains the best template.
This lesson has hardly been lost on Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu,
whose Bar-Ilan University peace proposal emphasized precisely the
security parameters essential for peace. That proposal, however, has
been blatantly and irresponsibly disregarded by his critics. As a
result, too little serious thinking has been devoted to the complex
security arrangements Israel will need in the West Bank and on the Golan
should genuine Arab peace partners emerge, Sadatlike, in the future.The writer is a former Jerusalem Post
editorial page editor, and is now contributing editor to Jewish Ideas
Daily (www.jewishideasdaily.com), where this article was first published
and is reprinted with permission.