George S. Hishmeh
The Jordan Times
February 11, 2011 - 1:00am

Why is Benjamin Netanyahu (and many other Israelis) behaving like an ostrich, digging his head in the sand and wondering why the escalating Egyptian uprising, triggered by the recent Jasmine Revolution in Tunisia, has engulfed the Middle East and posed a threat to Israel?

The Israeli prime minister and his extreme right-wing Cabinet may now be regretting their failure to push harder or, at least, be more accommodating in reaching a peace agreement with the Palestinian Authority. All they had to do was to comply with international law and refrain from expanding into occupied territories, as has been the case for the last 43 years without much ado from the Western powers, especially the United States.

The Israeli media have underlined since the “day of rage”, on January 25 when the Egyptian uprising broke out, much to the surprise of almost everyone, that the Israelis are “terrified”, partly for the wrong reason. The Israeli view, propagated in the West, especially in the United States, that the Egyptian Muslim Brotherhood will be taking over Egypt, virtually closing the circle around Israel alongside the Palestinian Hamas in the Gaza Strip and the Lebanese Hizbollah overlooking the Israeli-controlled Galilee in the north.

This is attributable to the prevalent misunderstanding in Israel and the West that the success of the Islamists in some regions of the Arab world is, in good part, due to the denial of freedom of expression in many Middle Eastern countries, where leaders are often unyielding autocrats, as is the case of Egypt’s Hosni Mubarak, who has been in office for about 30 years. Had these regimes, as has been the case in Lebanon for decades, allowed other political parties to function freely, the choice of would-be activists would have been divided among various leftist or rightist parties. (The Lebanese Communist Party, for example, has been in existence for many decades.)

The Israeli prime minister, wrote Daniella Peled in Haaretz, “resorted to hugely clumsy diplomacy”. She cited, for example, his instructions to Israeli ambassadors to lobby governments “to soften their statements about poor old Mubarak ... (as) more than shortsighted”.

She explained: “The protesters on the streets of Cairo certainly challenge the conventional wisdom that if Mubarak falls, the Muslim Brotherhood will come to power. This is nothing but a ruse dreamed up by the regime to ensure Western support, they say, insisting that the people in the Muslim Brotherhood are intelligent and pragmatic, they are not Al Qaeda or the Taliban”.

In turn, Uri Avnery, a prominent Israeli activist, acknowledged that there were economic factors in Egypt that led to “turmoil”, but “let there be no mistake: the underlying causes are far more profound. They can be summed up in one word: Palestine”. He stressed that “peace with the Palestinians is no longer a luxury. It is an absolute necessity. Peace now, peace quickly”.

A day later, Israeli President Shimon Peres urged Netanyahu to move quickly, saying: “The dramatic events of the recent period make it necessary for us to take the Israeli-Palestinian conflict off the region agenda ....”

It is shocking that no prominent Israeli has thought of telling Netanyahu it is time for him to go because he has been ineffective and missed a golden opportunity to settle the conflict with his neighbours, Palestinians, Syrians and Lebanese.

In this respect, Aaron David Miller, who has been an adviser to several US secretaries of state on the Middle East peace process, was not very hopeful. He wrote in The Washington Post last Sunday: “In this environment, to believe, as some analysts have argued, that any Israeli government would negotiate a conflict-ending agreement with the Palestinians to preempt further radicalisation in the region is to believe in the peace-process tooth fairy”.

The first sign of a serious problem in the region came when unidentified saboteurs blew up the natural gas pipeline that runs through Egypt’s northern Sinai, disrupting the flow to Israel and Jordan. Israel receives 40 per cent of its natural gas from Egypt, at an unbelievably lower cost than the market price, much to the chagrin of demonstrators in Egypt and elsewhere in the region. This was one of many ways in how Mubarak sought to satisfy US interests.

Another complicating factor has been the announcement that the Palestinian Authority is planning national elections in the occupied Palestinian territories in the West Bank and the Hamas-ruled Gaza Strip in July. How the results will affect the region and the US policy in the Middle East remains to be seen. For one, any successor other than the present Palestinian regime, will not be more accommodating to Israel than Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas has been, if one accepts the content of the so-called Palestinian Papers.


American Task Force on Palestine - 1634 Eye St. NW, Suite 725, Washington DC 20006 - Telephone: 202-262-0017