Many Israelis see the unraveling of the once-vaunted Egyptian government and argue that the increasingly precarious nature of the Arab regimes means that any peace agreement with them would be equally precarious.
|There is never truly an ideal moment to make peace — there will always be great uncertainty and a measure of risk.|
But rather than serve as an excuse not to make peace, the events in Egypt and the uncertainty they create for Israel should serve as a warning that missing opportunities to establish a status quo that offers Israel peace and security will instead lead to a status quo of regional instability, threats and conflict.
Indeed, if Israel had accepted the Arab League's peace initiative and established normal relations with all 22 members, the anxiety that grips Israel with regard to the critical Israel-Egypt peace treaty would have been significantly diminished.
Instead, today it is faced with — and must prepare for — three possible scenarios: 1) an Egypt influenced greatly by the Muslim Brotherhood which rejects Israel in principle; 2) the establishment of a largely secular government, though not as friendly as the Mubarak government; or 3) since the Egyptian military has been behind the Israeli-Egyptian peace treaty, a continuation of similar bilateral relations may not be ruled out.
Because of the still-unfolding events, however, it can be assumed that any of the three scenarios could play out. Israel must therefore recalibrate its policies toward the Arab states.
What happened in Tunisia, and especially Egypt, will impact other Arab countries in one way or another — and the Middle East will never be the same.
The Muslim Brotherhood remains the only significantly organized opposition group in Egypt, strengthened by its network of social services provided throughout the country. While the Muslim Brotherhood is viewed as a political movement, it has served to influence and provide a common foundation for many Muslim extremists in the region, including its offshoot cousin, Hamas.
|If Israel had accepted the Arab League's peace initiative, the anxiety that grips Israel would have been significantly diminished.|
Israel — rightly — is deeply concerned that the Brotherhood's head-start on other groups in political organization could allow it to have significant influence in a democratic Egypt — or even lead it. If the Brotherhood had such a prominent role in the largest and most influential Arab state, there would be fears of potential gains for Islamists in other nations, including in Jordan.
The second, more hopeful scenario from Israel's perspective would be the rise of a secular democratic Egypt that would maintain the peace treaty with Israel and good relations with the United States. The hope for this scenario rests with the Egyptian army and its desire to maintain a semblance of stability in the transition from the Mubarak regime to a truly democratic Egypt, void of significant influence from Islamists.
Any new government would feel the impact of an end to the $1.5 billion in aid the United States sends to Egypt each year, largely as a result of the maintenance of the Egypt-Israel peace treaty.
In either scenario, Israel will need to be prepared to address a region in change. It will not be able to base its policies on the events happening in one country at a time.
Herein lies the opportunity of the current moment. In addition to seeking to maintain its peace with the newly shaped Egypt, Israel should also pursue bilateral tracks with Syria, the Palestinians and the Lebanese. Indeed, there is never truly an ideal moment to make peace — there will always be great uncertainty and a measure of risk.
|Israel will not be able to base its policies on the events happening in one country at a time.|
However, the risk of not achieving peace, or of achieving bilateral peace agreements which leave other conflicts unresolved, is simply unacceptable at a time when Israel is facing the rising threat of Islamic radicals, whether in the form of Iran to the east, Hamas to the south or Hezbollah to the north.
The Arab League's peace initiative offers a way to mitigate risk and receive a maximum reward: normalized relations with its 22 nations. Indeed, the greater the number of Arab states with which it forges a peace agreement, the less threatened it will be.
Should one Arab country violate such an agreement, it would be a violation of peace reached with all other Arab nations, not just Israel. The stakes therefore would be raised for all involved, and the resulting agreement would be all the more secure because of it.
Of course, whether the Arab Peace Initiative (API) itself will survive this period of turmoil remains to be seen. Israel should ensure that it does not miss the opportunity to seize the Initiative once and for all.
The Egyptian revolution has the potential for many great and positive developments, though of course there is always the possibility that the revolution may usher in a prolonged period of instability.
Under any circumstances, Israel must remain focused on making peace and must invite the Egyptians to be an integral part of creating this peace. This would also send a powerful message that Israel is prepared to proactively establish a new, sustainable status quo in the Middle East based on peaceful relations and mutual security with all its neighbors.