Gideon Levy
February 3, 2011 - 1:00am

Suddenly peace has become an asset for Israel, and suddenly Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak has become Israel's best friend. Like a man about to lose the woman he abused for years, and only then recognizes her value - far too late - Israel is now hunkering down, frightened of what the future will bring. What if the new government in Egypt revokes the peace treaty?

Quick to the draw, as usual, spreading the typical fear of real and imagined dangers, Israel's prime minister has forbidden his cabinet ministers from speaking on the subject - and they are even obeying him. Warning, danger: the peace is about to be torn up.

This is the same peace that we criticized for years. The constant refrain was about how cold the peace is, how hostile and dangerous Egypt is. Mubarak doesn't come here, tourists don't come here, the Egyptian elite is anti-Semitic, it's too dangerous to visit the land of the Nile. Gevald, the Egyptians hate us. Only a decade ago Avigdor Lieberman proposed that Israel bomb the Aswan Dam, just as Yigal Alon did 20 years earlier.

When the peace treaty between Israel and Egypt was about to be signed, settlers barricaded themselves in the northern Sinai settlement of Yamit, and Tzachi Hanegbi even threatened to kill himself because of the agreement. When the deal was signed, Israel committed itself to respecting the legitimate rights of the Palestinian people. It made a commitment and violated it, made a mockery of it, and since then Egypt has not ceased begging Israel to promote a settlement with the Palestinians. Israel has arrogantly ignored these pleas, declaring war and imposing occupation on the Palestinian people.

Who cares about peace and negotiations? The peace deal with Egypt was always described as a farce. Now it's suddenly a strategic asset.

It is the same sort of peace that would have no chance of being accepted by the current government or Knesset. Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu would have never signed it, and the Knesset would never have approved it. It's not difficult to imagine what would happen today if Egypt would offer peace for land: endless negotiation over security arrangements, interim agreements, water arrangements and air arrangements - and no peace.

Lieberman would have made threats, Ehud Barak would have been evasive, Rabbi Ovadia Yosef would have issued a religious ruling, the commentators would have warned of the many dangers, the public would have been apathetic, and Netanyahu would have been too cowardly to make a decision. In all, Israel would have said no to peace.

But now, when it could potentially be taken away from us, peace has again become a dream, a toy we won't give up. Even now, at Egypt's impressively fateful moment, Israel persists. A terrible disaster: Egypt is heading toward democracy. Big trouble: Mubarak is about to disappear. The events unfolding over there are being explained to us mainly by generals and military correspondents, as if Egypt is still an enemy state. Everything is presented with red flashing danger lights. The Muslim Brotherhood is not only taking over Egypt, but also marching on Israel.

Even when it appears that Egypt will not become Iran, that its revolution is secular and popular, and anti-Israeli hatred is not playing any central role, people here continue to spread fear. Any minute now, even Yoav Galant will be appointed IDF chief of staff, because of the imminent danger. Instead of trying to explore the opportunities, we wallow in the dangers.

But it's a good thing that we've finally recognized the value of Israel's peace treaty with Egypt after so many years of scorn. Its 32 years have been very good for Israel. It prevented a great deal of killing, provided much security and quiet, and protected many resources. It is indeed a strategic asset. But what have we done all these years to preserve it? To strengthen it among the Egyptian people, who yearned to see the end of the occupation of their Palestinian brothers?

And above all, what have we done to reach additional agreements - the importance of which we belittle, yet one day we will be existentially fearful of losing? Think about the Palestinians, about Syria; think about the day we will sign a peace agreement with them - and think about the day we will be in danger of losing it.


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