Analysis: Egyptian chaos and the Palestinian question

Instability gripping neighbors will only strengthen PM’s default setting - any peace accord must have ironclad security arrangements.

Netanyahu in cabinet meeting 311 (photo credit: AP)
Netanyahu in cabinet meeting 311
(photo credit: AP)
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.
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.
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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 plain.
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 oft-repeated mantra.
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 changed.
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 Turkey.
“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.”
Click here for full Jpost coverage of unrest in Egypt
Click here for full Jpost coverage of unrest in Egypt
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 changing overnight.