Shlomo Avineri
Haaretz (Opinion)
February 14, 2011 - 1:00am

In wake of the upheaval that has swept through Egypt and much of the region, it is important to remind ourselves that peace with Egypt is not only a strategic asset, but a moral value as well. Recently, we here were presented with a rather problematic choice: Do we support democracy, or do we support the Israeli interest in maintaining security and stability? When a moral value (democracy ) is thus posited against realpolitik (stability and security ), it is easy to lapse into the argument that Israel supports despotism. Because some of the assessments on the issue were put forth by military specialists, they were suffused with the typical Israeli security discourse, and the moral aspect of preserving peace was almost lost.

Peace is not only a political, military and security arrangement; it is also a moral value. The fact that for 30 years not a single Israeli or Egyptian soldier was killed in hostile activities on our common border, while in the previous 30 years, tens of thousands were killed and wounded on both sides, is not only a strategic achievement, but a moral achievement of the highest order, credit for which goes to political leaders on both sides. Just as it is permissible to praise former Prime Minister Menachem Begin for achieving peace with Egypt, without agreeing with many of his views, it is equally permissible to praise former Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak for his determination, sometimes under great pressure, to preserve the peace initiated by his predecessor Anwar Sadat. That is not support for a despot; it's support for the moral content of peace.

What hasn't been said here about the peace with Egypt, mainly by the right? That it's a "cold peace," that in Egypt they oppose normalization, that there are anti-Israeli statements in the media, sometimes encouraged by the government. It is better not to mention what Foreign Minister Avigdor Lieberman, while still in the opposition, wished Mubarak, during a discussion of his refusal to visit Israel. All that was true, but irrelevant: The decisive fact was that the Israelis and the Egyptians didn't fight one another, soldiers did not die on the battlefield, there were no additional widows and orphans.

Even parts of the Israeli left made light of the peace with Egypt. The left was so focused on the need, justified in itself, to achieve peace with the Palestinians, that it forgot that we have peace - achieved with considerable effort - with the largest Arab country, constituting a guarantee that there will be no major war in the region. Both the right and left ignored the moral dimension of peace.

This is what must guide Israel's approach to developments in Egypt. First, we should admire the restraint that until now has characterized both the masses of demonstrators and the army units deployed against them. Such behavior is not always obvious in these situations. In other countries in the region, such a massive and prolonged confrontation would have likely ended in a bloodbath. The absence of violence must be credited not only to the respect the Egyptians feel for their army, but to the Egyptian behavioral culture as well.

We can hope that the absence of violence, a great source of pride for the Egyptians, will also characterize future developments. Israel should be interested in democracy in Egypt, since democracy tends to come hand-in-hand with the repudiation of violence and belligerence. But Egypt's internal regime is the business of its own citizens, and we would do well not to try to advise them whom to elect and whom not to elect. In any event, the moral aspect of peace, which is based on the principle of preserving human life and its quality of life, must be a guide to us, as to Egyptian society that has now embarked on a new path.


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