How will the apparent end of Hosni Mubarak’s long regime affect stalled Middle East peace talks?
Some on the left are hoping the change to something else – a transitional government, a government led by Mohammed ElBaradei, a coalition that includes the feared Muslim Brotherhood, something we can’t even forsee – will convince Israeli leaders that time is running out for a two state solution.
For my story this week, I talked to Daniel Levy of the Century Foundation, a onetime adviser to Israeli negotiators. Daniel told me that the change means “Israel is belatedly going to have to wake up to the fact that if it wants to be accepted not by the dictators of the regions but by representative governments, it’s going to have to think long and hard about whether it can actually change its disposition toward the Palestinians.”
Levy’s premise: the winds of democratic change are blowing across the region, and that means Israel will lose its only friends – dictators like Mubarak, monarchies like Jordan’s King Abdullah. If it wants to avoid even greater isolation – and possible encirclement by Islamic governments and movements – it needs to find a solution to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, and fast.
I’ve heard a somewhat different version of the “it’ll wake Israel up” argument from others who say the possible threat to the Camp David peace will shock Israel’s leaders into realizing they have to settle with the Palestinians and Syria to avoid being completely besieged.
I see the logic of those arguments – but have doubts about whether that’s the way it will be perceived in Jerusalem.
Equally and perhaps more likely is that Israel, more isolated than ever, will stiffen its resistance to any new land-for-peace deals. Why make deals with new governments that are driven by an Arab street that is implacably hostile to the Jewish state? many will say.
Isn’t it interesting how Israeli leaders have argued in recent years that peace is possible only with other democracies – except, apparently, not in the case of Egypt, and maybe Jordan?
I also wonder about the response from a Palestinian Authority that, like the Israeli government, hasn’t been anxious to make the politically difficult compromises any deal will require.
Will the change in Egypt and the potential for change in a broader swath of the Arab world make PA leaders more confident about signing a deal with Israel – or convince them they can hold out until an encircled Israel has to give up even more? I just don’t know.
And will Hamas be strengthened with the demise of Mubarak, who cooperated to a degree with Israel in isolating the anti-Israel group?
And what about the United States? For years administrations here have had limited success – that may be putting it charitably – in convincing Arab and Muslim states to actively support its Israeli-Palestinian peace efforts.
The Obama administration, after initially supporting Mubarak, quickly changed sides and urged him to step down this week, no doubt worried about its credibility in the Arab world.
But I doubt that will be enough to offset the memory of decades of U.S. support for dictators and despots across the region, all the while preaching the wonders of democracy. I find it hard to believe this week’s crisis strengthens America’s hand in pressing for peace, and suspect that for now, at least, we’re playing with worse cards.
All of this doesn’t take into account one factor: who will emerge as Egypt’s top leaders? Will they be enlightened, responsible leaders who realize that tamping down the region’s animosities will ultimately be good for the Egyptian people, and that working constructively for peace between Israel and her neighbors will be good for the whole region?
Or will they be demagogues who exploit anti-Israel sentiment to cement their own positions and distract their populations? Only time will tell.