Egypt and Israel tie-break

The public outcry in Egypt will no doubt turn its focus onto Israel in the near future. Future peace processes will be affected, with Israelis being even more unwilling to enter into land-for-peace negotiations with Arabs.

Egyptian protesters clash with riot police in Cairo 311 AP (photo credit: AP)
Egyptian protesters clash with riot police in Cairo 311 AP
(photo credit: AP)
It was an unbelievable week in the Middle East. Those of us glued to the TV witnessed the Egyptian revolution unfold in real time from our living rooms. No commentators or translators were needed; it was enough to see the waves of people flood the streets and be able to sense their emotions and hear  their cries (often in English): "Mubarak must go.”
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But Egyptian president Hosni Mubarak might stay. His spirit and pro-Western policy though, have certainly fallen by the wayside. In any case, Egypt will be a very different country from now on. The people will have much more to say on every matter. Only after the next Egyptian elections will we see the full scope of the change, but it the meantime it will certainly not be the presidency and the army alone that will call the shots.
When it comes to Israel, anyone that has followed Egyptian policies in the last two decades is aware of the gulf between Mubarak's Israeli policy and the sentiments toward Israel in the Egyptian street (and indeed, the press). Mubarak created a strategic partnership with Israel that was extremely unpopular among Egyptians. This of course has very little - if anything at all - to do with the existing uprising, which came about due to deep rooted social and economic reasons. Nevertheless, the public outcry will no doubt turn its focus onto Israel at some point soon.
The alarm that Israelis are feeling in the midst of the riots is twofold: firstly, the wide spread hatred towards Mubarak is surprising considering that at least in Israel, Egypt’s president was never viewed as a cruel or corrupt dictator. This is coupled with the raw courage of tens of thousands of Egyptians to openly state "on record" that they would like to see him gone. And the second thing that is unnerving Israelis is the fact that even if Mubarak and his supporters survive this uprising, they will no longer be able to carry the unpopular Israeli burden on their weakened shoulders. On top of that, "the Egyptian street" - the emerging Egyptian civil society and all major opposition groups involved in this impressive uprising - will gradually gain their  share in decision making and inject the anti-Israel sentiment into the veins of a new Egyptian establishment, as well as into its security circles.
So on a practical level, what will all this mean for Israel? Certainly, Israel will be forced to approach Egypt very differently from now on. It will need to lower its expectations substantially. Israel can no longer impose existing high-profile and intimate security ties on the new Egyptian establishment. The security link, if it can survive at all, can only do so if it is kept very far from the Egyptian public eye. Israel also needs to ready itself for the inevitable downgrading in the level of Egyptian representation in Israel. We may take comfort in the fact that this has already happened twice in the past, and on those occasions enabled the diplomatic link to stay unbroken.
The Israeli public should internalize the fact that with the regional peace prospects as they are at the moment, we are becoming more and more isolated and are being surrounded by a growing wave of hatred and hostility. On the other hand, if the foundations of the Israeli-Egyptian peace process will be dramatically shaken, it will be very difficult to convince the Israeli public to exchange land for peace again.
What all this will mean for future Israeli policies is up to the Israelis themselves. From now on, Egyptians will be Egypt’s decision-makers, and Israelis will be Israel’s. Let us just hope that the people will make the correct decisions.
The writer, a former chargé d’affaires in Turkey and ambassador to South Africa, was director-general of the Foreign Ministry between 2000 and 2001. Today he lectures at Tel Aviv University, Hebrew University and the Interdisciplinary Center, Herzliya.