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Concerns about Israel mean getting on the right side of history

While it is impossible to predict what kind of relationship Israel might have with a post-Mubarak Egypt, it is perfectly legitimate to be concerned about possible negative ramifications. But these concerns should not be an excuse for discrediting the Egyptian protesters

By Lara Friedman

Today Egypt is undergoing historic, organic change led by the people of Egypt.  The Egyptian people – not led by any single party or individual – are demonstrating through their actions that the longstanding political status quo in Egypt cannot continue.  It is still unknown how these protests will end and what Egypt’s government will look like in both the short-term and longer-term.  What is clear, however, is that the will of the Egyptian people will not be denied, either by the Mubarak government or the international community.

For those who view the Middle East primarily through the prism of Israel and the Israeli-Arab conflict, the developments in Egypt provoke understandably complicated feelings.

The courage and determination of Egypt’s citizens is inspiring, embodying the desire for freedom, dignity, and rights that is common to people the world over.  At the same time, there are understandable concerns about what change in Egypt will mean for Israel, notwithstanding the fact that the protests, at least thus far, include no overt anti-Israel (or anti-American) component.  The Camp David Accords – the Egypt-Israel peace agreement signed in 1978 – has for more than 30 years been the single most important element of security and stability between Israel and the Arab world.  While it should not be assumed that change in Egypt will mean the end of this treaty, it cannot be assumed that Egypt-Israel relations in the wake of an Egyptian political tectonic shift will continue as before.  This is especially true given widespread popular Arab frustration over the impasse in the peace process, anger at the continuing occupation of Palestinian lands and the siege of Gaza, and outrage over Israeli settlement activities, especially in Jerusalem.  Already, reports that the Egyptian Army has abandoned the Gaza border raise serious and immediate fears about the ramifications of change in Egypt for Israel.

Cairo protestors (photo: Sarah Carr/Flickr)

Concerns about the future of Egypt-Israel relations are thus entirely reasonable.  What is not reasonable is for anyone – in the U.S., Israel, or elsewhere – to suggest that, because of these concerns, the protests are illegitimate or that the only acceptable outcome in Egypt will be to turn back the clock and return to the political status quo ante.  Peaceful protests are undeniably legitimate and the clock will not and cannot be turned back.  Change in Egypt is happening, regardless of whether strategists in Washington or Tel Aviv welcome it.

It will still be some time before anyone knows what Egypt will look like in the future – whether it will be more democratic, whether corruption will end, whether the people’s demands for accountability and hope will be met with a more accountable and more effective government.  For the sake of Egypt, we all must hope that the violence stops, that security is restored, and that the demands of Egypt’s courageous citizens result in the real change that they so want and deserve.

It will also be some time before anyone knows whether Egypt will, in the future, continue to be a partner in peace for Israel.  I fervently hope that this will be the case, for the sake of the security and stability of both Egypt and Israel.

For now, the Obama Administration and the world – including those of us care deeply about Israel – must stand, squarely, with the people of Egypt.  It is the right thing to do and only by doing so can we expect to have any credibility when the dust begins to clear and a new Egyptian political reality begins to emerge.

At that time it will be imperative that we spare no effort to ensure that Egypt-Israel peace does not become a casualty of domestic political change in Egypt.  This will require the Obama Administration to engage Egypt – whatever it looks like politically – with urgency and seriousness, adjusting this important bilateral relation to reflect a new political reality.  At the same time, the Obama Administration must take dramatic, decisive action to re-accredit the peace process.

Nothing can guarantee that Egypt will continue be friendly to Israel or that the Camp David Accords will hold.  However, continued Israeli occupation and settlement in the West Bank and East Jerusalem – and the total failure of the peace process – will guarantee that Israel-Egypt relations under the as-yet-to-be-determined new Egyptian political status quo will at best continue to be severely strained, and at worst could enter a dangerous new phase.

Lines are increasingly being drawn in the Middle East between those courageous people putting their lives on the line for freedom and democracy – which by definition involves significant uncertainty – and those who in the name of “stability” doggedly defend a status quo that no longer enjoys even a veneer of legitimacy and which cannot be sustained.  Friends of Israel have a choice today about which side of history they want to be on.

Lara Friedman is the Director of Policy and Government Relations at Americans for Peace Now.

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    1. Woody

      Lara seems lost or it’s clear that Peace Now thinks they need to lie to their “pro-Israel” audience.

      You say: “At that time it will be imperative that we spare no effort to ensure that Egypt-Israel peace does not become a casualty of domestic political change in Egypt.”

      How can you support protesters, but then “spare no effort” to maintain the status quo ante where Israel and Egypt collaborate to oppress Gaza? This revolution is for freedom – the Zionist state in its origin, mission, and current function DO NOT. Why don’t you get it yet?

      I will never understand these liberal hangups most of the +972 articles have. I like the beginning of most articles – they’re much better than MSM in Israel. However, when a tricky issue arises the transparent lack of comprehensive political understanding appears – and some strange defense of Zionism appears. Get over it already.

      Reply to Comment
    2. Ben Israel

      In a strange sort of way, I, a “right-wing Orthodox/religious Zionist” Israeli, agree with Woody. Ultimately, I feel that the values the so-called “Progressives” or “anti-globalist, anti-capitalist Left” which some of the “972” writers espouse can not lead to support of Israel or Zionism.
      However, I don’t believe those values are the ones the Egyptians and the rest of the Arab world want. Although the radical political Islamic movements we see in the Middle East (Iran, HIZBULLAH, HAMAS, Egyptian Muslim Brotherhood, possibly Turkey) are deeply antisemitic and and anti-Israel, the more widespread, traditionalist conservative Islam professed by the majority of the Arabs in the Middle East is much closer in values to the values of the Orthodox/religous Right in Israel than they are to the “Progressives” I mentioned above. The large majority of Arabs, who may be skeptical of the radical poltical Islamic movements, which have failed to prove they can bring real national development to Iran, still believe in traditionalist values such as respect for elders, family, modesty in dress and comportment for both men and women, opposition to open homosexuality, pornography, and the secular materialist/consumerist values of the West. Traditionalist Judaism views these phenomena in much the same way the traditionalist Muslims do. Since Islam itself is a missionary religion, it is automatically on the alert against inroads made by “missionary religions” imported from the outside such as traditionalist agressive Christianity and the new “religion” of internationalist, globalist secularist consumerism advocated by many Israeli post-Zionists (e.g. Bernard Avishai) and “Progressives” (whether pro- or anti-globalist/capitalist) and which is very agressively pushed by the international media controlled by the West.
      Thus, in the end, although it will take time, an Israel more firmly rooted in Jewish tradition (and recall that Judaism is NOT a missionary religion and thus poses no threat to Islam) with religious Jews coming more to the forefront of political life, will have a much easier time reaching a situation of peaceful relations with the Arab world, than the current secularist regime in Israel which has failed so miserably to bring real peace.

      Reply to Comment
    3. Merphie

      “Peaceful protests are undeniably legitimate and the clock will not and cannot be turned back”

      the protests are not peaceful. Let us not underestimate the seriousness of these riots.
      I can understand that the cause that the Egyptian people are fighting for is a legitimate one and it is one of the core values of a proper democracy they expect, But when the protests are considered an act of bravery it is simply a reverse discrimination from the left. people that are burning and looting are not worthy of fighting for a non-corrupt democracy.

      Reply to Comment
    4. Majid Jamali Fashi

      The possibility of “israel” being on the right side of history is more problematic than a pregnant virgin. The best possible outcome of the revolution in Egypt is a repeat of the Iranian revolution, that is the conversion of the nation from western sycophant to staunch antizionist revolutionaries. It is my hope that after the revolution, the zionists are between the vise of Iran and Egypt

      Reply to Comment
    5. Susy

      It is with pure hypocricy that anyone that supports Israel’s treatment of the people in Gaza & Left Bank criticize any Egyptian uprising. Those people have every right to react to their oppressive government. As far as the looting, there will always be a few bad apples in the bunch.
      As an American citizen, I am tired of sending tremendous amounts (over 8 million dollars a day) of our tax dollars to support the military in Israel, particularily when the zionists, whose mothers and fathers, or grandmothers and grandfathers received the worst treatment imaginable during the Holocaust, are mistreating and abusing the people of Palestine. It is a great shame!! I hope to see things more equally balanced in the Mideast after this is over.

      Reply to Comment
    6. Ilana Sebba

      1.- I am very hard pressed to understand Majid’s comments, which do not add anything to the discussions and are always full of hatred against Israel and keep wishing for Israel to disappear. Why is this acceptable to the +972 people?

      2.- I also do not understand why we are focusing so much on Israel’s future relationship with the future government of Egypt after this is over. Sure it’s super important but this is not the right time – If you really care about the people of Egypt, then we must focus on how to help them build democratic, fair institutions and deal with corruption, etc. and not just find another forum to criticize Israeli policies, really this, as legitimate as it is, is not the time.

      Reply to Comment
    7. Ben Israel

      It’s funny but I believe it was the Communists who first coined the expression that “they were on the right side of history” since Marx supposedly had an infallible reading of it and it pointed to an inevitable Communist future for the whole world. Where are they today?

      Reply to Comment
    8. Nilus

      I want to thank Ben Israel for his interesting words. Even though my world-view is neither religious nor right wing, on the contrary, I find a lot of truth in his first statement. It’s hard to reconcile real left-wing values like internationalism and equality with zionism. I very much agree with the point that traditional religious orthodox jews and their muslim counterparts would fare much better in living next to or with eachother in peace. In fact they did so for centuries before the advent of modern-day nationalism in the middle east in the late 19th century. But then again zionism was and is a mostly secular nationalist movement that used religious yearnings as founding stone and a means to claim the land. For long it was rejected by most of the traditional religious communities. Orthodox/religious zionism is somewhat of an oxymoron cause zionism runs contrary to certain central traditional jewish beliefs. I would argue that the right-wing orthodox/religious zionist movements are in fact the equivalent of the radical political islamic movements Ben Israel mentioned. Wouldn’t most of the fanatic settlers in the west-bank subscribe to the same description of themselves? It’s actually safe to say that they are as anti-semitic as hamas or hizbollah insofar as they seem to very much hate and despise their arab neighbours.
      I believe a solution to the whole mess can only be found by dropping all nationalisms and indeed by focusing on the central jewish and muslim beliefs that are so similar in many respects.

      Reply to Comment