PM on Egypt: Israel must ‘prepare for worst’

Netanyahu says leaders and policy-makers around the world must be alerted of possible dangers that may lie ahead.

Netanyahu has a point 311 (photo credit: Moshe Milner)
Netanyahu has a point 311
(photo credit: Moshe Milner)
Israel shares the world’s hopes that Egypt will succeed in its quest for genuine reform, but unlike other democracies it cannot just hope for the best, but must prepare for the worst, Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu said on Wednesday.
Speaking to the annual Jerusalem meeting of the Conference of Presidents of Major American Jewish Organizations, Netanyahu said that part of preparing for the worst was “to alert leaders and policy-makers around the world of possible dangers that may lie ahead, not because I want them to materialize – I don’t – but because I have a responsibility to do whatever I can to increase the chances that they don’t materialize.”
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With these words the prime minister was taking on criticism articulated in recent days – most notably by New York Times columnists Thomas Friedman and Roger Cohen – that Israel has been on the wrong side of history in not fervently applauding the recent events in Cairo.
“No one knows what the future in Egypt will bring,” Netanyahu said. “People in Washington don’t know, and people in Tehran don’t know, and – this may be hard for some of you – but even columnists in The New York Times don’t know.”
Netanyahu said that while changing the status quo led to a much better situation in Europe in 1989 with the collapse of the Iron Curtain, the same cannot be said of the Russian Revolution in 1917, or the Iranian revolution in 1979.
Even more recently, he said, most of the world applauded the Cedar Revolution in Lebanon in 2005. But just a few years later, Hezbollah – “a terror organization that respects no human rights, that crushes human rights into the dust” – has taken over the country.
Ultimately, the Egyptians themselves will determine their own fate, Netanyahu said, “but Israel cannot profess neutrality about the outcome, because above all, we want the future Egyptian government to remain committed to peace with Israel.”
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Netanyahu said he wanted “every single Egyptian” to know that Israel was committed to peace with them and the country’s other neighbors. Two-thirds of Egyptians, around 50 million people, were born after the 1979 peace agreement and don’t remember what life was like before the agreement was signed, he said. All of Israel’s neighbors should value what the peace agreement contributed to Israel and Egypt, the prime minister added.
“I have no doubt that maintaining the peace, deepening it, is in the interest of Egypt, and I hope this will accompany the Egyptian effort to achieve a free and democratic society as they pursue their reform,” he said. “While we wish the Egyptian people full success as they seek to forge a new future, we make no apologies for our fervent hope that they remain committed to peace.”
Netanyahu said that in recent weeks a number of accepted truths had been shattered, including that the Israeli-Palestinian conflict was the central problem in the region. The US diplomatic cables published by WikiLeaks showed that the main concern of Arab governments was not Israel and the Palestinians, but Iran, while the protests currently rocking the Arab world showed that the main problem bothering the Arab masses was the quality of their own lives, and not the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.
But, he said, “There are still those for whom the centrality of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict to the region, and in fact to the world, is nothing less than an article of faith, and there is no evidence that these true believers will not ignore. But many fair-minded, objective observers are beginning to recognize reality.”
Last week, James Jones, US President Barack Obama’s recently retired national security adviser, said that the Palestinian-Israeli conflict remained the most important problem in the region, if not the world.
Even as much of the conventional wisdom regarding the region was falling by the wayside, Netanyahu said there was still “one truth that has yet to emerge: that it is not Israel that does not wish to advance negotiations to secure the final peace with the Palestinians, it is the Palestinians. They don’t want to negotiate. I hope that changes.”
Speaking just before Netanyahu, US Ambassador James Cunningham – seemingly trying to tame Israeli jitters over the American response to the crisis in Egypt – said the US was “not naive” about the emerging situation in Egypt, was “not in retreat, and does not underestimate the difficulties.”
Acknowledging that there has been “understandable concern” in the region about the “constancy” of American policy, “we have not abandoned our allies,” Cunningham said.
The ambassador also pledged that the Obama administration’s “dedication to Israel’s security and legitimacy will remain unshaken as we move through the weeks and months ahead.”