Monday, February 28, 2011

BYE BYE J STREET?

On the face of it, J-Street appears to be a success story.

In a little over three years, the lobby has either supplanted or co-opted Americans for Peace Now, Israel Policy Forum, New Israel Fund and other likeminded outfits to emerge as the preeminent Jewish force committed to pushing Israel back to the 1949 Armistice Lines irrespective of what the Palestinians do. This remarkable achievement by executive director Jeremy Ben-Ami is attributable to the branding of J Street as "passionately and unapologetically pro-Israel.”

A neophyte to the American Jewish political scene could be forgiven for taking him at his word. After all, J Street's just concluded policy conference drew 1,500 "pro-peace, pro-Israel" conventioneers, 500 animated college students, junketeering opposition Knesset members, progressive rabbis, advocacy journalists and even a welcoming letter from Kadima party head Tzipi Livni.

Without doubt, most of the attendees came in good faith convinced that they were bolstering the two-state solution. Had they appreciated J-Street's disingenuously cloaked agenda, utterly reckless policy prescriptions and deeply troubling ethical lapses, many would, presumably, have stayed home. That they did not is a tribute to artful political manipulation practiced by J Street's strategists.

J-Street has capitalized on the "fatigue" many liberal Jewish Americans feel in having to defend unpopular Israeli positions on campus, in the media, and around the office water cooler. J Street promotes the fanciful notion that public criticism of Israel has been inhibited by a monolithic Jewish "establishment" (headed by AIPAC) and that its "dissent" is somehow gutsy.

In truth, discomfiture with this or that Israeli policy has been a factor in the Israel-Diaspora relationship dating back to Nahum Goldmann's break with David Ben-Gurion in the 1950s and was reaffirmed by the precipitate flirtation by Breira and the New Jewish Agenda with the pre-Oslo PLO in the 1970s and 80s. What's more, with the 1977 election of Menachem Begin, Israel's first nationalist prime minister, major American Jewish leaders have routinely lambasted Israel's West Bank settlement policies.

J-Street's more savvy defenders claim its saving grace is that it offers ashamed liberal Jewish undergraduates besieged by virulent campus anti-Zionism (of the Tony Judt strain) with a way of joining the bandwagon of criticism while remaining "pro-Israel."

Regrettably, J-Street does more than criticize Israel; it actively lobbies the U.S. Congress to take steps that would undermine Israeli security and it serves as an enabler to an unsympathetic Obama administration whose misguided policies have impeded the peace process and hardened the already intransigent positions of the Palestinian Authority.

In fact, J Street relishes the role of providing domestic political cover for White House pressure on Israel. J Street stands apart from other Jewish critics of Israel for its ability to legally raise money and give it away to candidates who share its redefinition of pro-Israelism.

Making no substantive demands on the Arabs, J-Street blames Israel solely for the breakdown in negotiations. It claims to support Israel's right to self-defense; yet since its founding J Street has opposed every measure Israel has taken to defend its citizens. It is against the security barrier which has kept suicide bombers at bay.

It opposed military action to stop Hamas's bombardment of the Negev. It abandoned Israel in the face of the Turkish flotilla hullabaloo. And it had to be dragged kicking and screaming to embrace even mild sanctions against Iran.

J-Street professes to oppose the boycott, divestment and sanctions campaign against Israel. In practice, it has partnered with BDS proponents and some of its supporters believe in selective sanctions. It has shown no scruples about aligning with the vociferously anti-Zionist U.S. Council of Churches. Rather than discrediting Judge Richard Goldstone's lawfare campaign to enfeeble Israel's right to self-defense, J-Street staffers actually promoted his appearances in Congress. J Street has even provided cover for the crusade to delegitimize Israel by the U.N.'s so-called "Committee on the Exercise of the Inalienable Rights of the Palestinian People."

In fact, one is hard put to discern any policy differences between the Palestinian Authority's stated positions and those of J-Street. This explains why the PLO ambassador in Washington was glad to address J Street's 2011 policy conference while Israel's ambassador stayed away.

Both J Street and the PLO oppose any and all Jewish presence over the Green Line, metropolitan Jerusalem included. Both oppose Palestinian recognition of Israel as a “Jewish State.” Both back efforts to turn the Sheikh Jarrah neighborhood into sovereign Palestine thus endangering access to the nearby Hebrew University campus on Mt Scopus. The PLO and J-Street's partners, the Sheikh Jarrah Solidarity Movement, want to see the Jewish Agency, Jewish National Fund and the Israeli Land Authority abolished because, in the words of Sara Benninga, a Sheikh Jarrah activist and J-Street honoree, ending the "occupation" is not enough.

Both J-Street and the PLO support the Trojan horse Arab Peace Initiative which Ehud Olmert, Shimon Peres and Tzipi Livni, not to mention Benjamin Netanyahu, have all sensibly rebuffed. Like the PLO, J Street brazenly – albeit unsuccessfully – prodded the administration not to veto the recent UN Security Council resolution terming any Jewish presence over the Green Line as "illegal."

What, unadorned, does J-Street advocate?

In face-to-face negotiations, the Palestinians would be expected to compromise on boundaries, refugees and security. Consequently, J-Street advocates that the U.S. impose a solution. But what motivates such behavior? One clue comes from J Street co-founder Daniel Levy who has said that Israel's creation was "wrong." That is in line with the Arab view that Israel's "original sin" was to have been born; it furthermore illuminates why elements in J Street's base favor a one state solution.

This year's policy conference may be J Street's last hurrah.

Rep. Gary Ackerman (D-N.Y.), a leading Congressional dove has acrimoniously broken with the group prompting Ben-Ami to ruefully acknowledge that he had overplayed his hand. Taglit-Birthright has rebuffed J Street's cheeky request to co-sponsor a trip to Israel. But it is the momentous upheaval in the Arab world, along with Iran's newly revealed ramped-up quest for the atom bomb that may prove to be J Street's ultimate undoing.

No amount of wordplay will convince the Diaspora's mainstream that J-Street's scapegoating of Netanyahu and its drive to push Israel back to indefensible borders now is even remotely "pro-Israel."


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-- Monday, Feb. 28, 2011

Thursday, February 24, 2011

Will Egypt and Iran Now Be Friends?

Add bilateral relations between Teheran and Cairo in the post-Mubarak era to the already boiling Mideast cauldron. The request of two Iranian warships bound for Syria to transit the Suez Canal for the first time since the 1979 Iranian Revolution has met with telling indecisiveness on the part of Egypt's ruling military council.

One barometer of where Sunni Arab Egypt is heading will be the evolution of its bilateral relations with Shi'ite Persian Iran. Another will be the latitude Cairo gives Iran's Hamas-client in Gaza. It is surely not a good omen that the exiled old anti-Semite and anti-Zionist, Yusuf al-Qaradawi, al-Jazeera's rabble-rousing preacher and darling of the Moslem Brotherhood, was granted a platform to address the multitudes at Friday prayers in Tahrir Square.

The Jewish state has long been a bone of contention in Iran-Egypt relations. Iran's 1950 de facto recognition of Israel was put on ice the following year by the newly appointed premier Mohammed Mossadegh; and resumed in 1953 with his downfall. The Arab League, instigated by Egyptian president Gamal Abdel Nasser, retaliated against Iran, now directly ruled by Mohammad Reza Pahlavi as Shah, and imposed sanctions. Against the canvass of the Cold War, Nasser aligned with the Soviet Union while the Shah sided with the West. Yet both men felt threatened by the Islamists. Nasser executed Moslem Brotherhood theologian Sayyid Qutb, while the Shah merely exiled Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini.

Attitudes toward Jews also differed. The Shah (who happened to be married to the deposed Egyptian King Farouk's sister) protected his country's 80,000 Jews so that there was little overt anti-Semitism. Far from the institutionalized Holocaust denial of the Islamist-era, Iran's press under the Shah openly covered the Eichmann trial of 50 years ago. Even today, the Iranian Jewish population numbers some 11,000 souls. By the late-1960s, in contrast, Egypt's Jewish community had ceased to exist.
Under Anwar Sadat cordial bilateral relations were finally established. These ended, however, after Iran's 1979 Islamist revolution, reflecting Khomeini's unbendable antagonism toward the Egypt-Israel peace treaty and his temper at Sadat for having granted the Shah temporary asylum. In 1981, the shameless mullahs would dedicate a street to Sadat's assassin.

Despite overtures by Iran on pan-Islamic grounds, Hosni Mubarak remained suspicious of their intentions, convinced that Teheran was organizing insurrection inside Egypt and seeking to influence events in the Sudan and Gaza – Egypt's backyard.

The Mubarak regime had been of two minds about Iran's quest for the atom bomb. In June 2009, Mubarak allowed an Israeli submarine to traverse the canal sending an implicit message that Egypt was committed to stopping the Iranian bomb. Yet Egyptian diplomats simultaneously led the UN mob in claiming that Israel was the real nuclear threat in the region. In November 2009, for example, the Mubarak government criticized an IAEA resolution that required Iran to cease construction of its enrichment facility near Qom. Egypt vacillated; sometimes abstaining at IAEA votes critical of Iran, other times calling on Teheran to cooperate with the international community.

Mubarak and Mahmoud Ahmadinejad met in 2008; the two countries established interest sections in each other's capitals. Yet relations remained strained as Mubarak blamed Iran for Egypt's failure to reconcile Fatah and Hamas. When Cairo barred an Iranian weapons ship from the Suez Canal, Ahmadinejad accused Egypt of selling out the Palestinians in favor of relations with the Zionists. In 2009, when a Hezbollah cell was uncovered preparing to carry out attacks inside Egypt, Mubarak saw further proof that Iran had designs on the Sunni Arab world. (The cell's imprisoned leader escaped during the anti-Mubarak upheaval to Hezbollah-dominated Lebanon.) Mubarak watched warily as the Sunni Moslem Brotherhood, along with its Hamas affiliate, built ecumenical bridges to Shi'ite Iran rooted in their mutual loathing of Israel and disdain for the West.

With all that, toward the end of the Mubarak era, Iran had secured Egypt's agreement for the resumption of direct flights between their respective capitals. Perhaps to delink Cairo from Washington, Iran offered not only to help Egypt develop its nuclear power industry but also to provide it with wheat to cover shortages and ameliorate rising bread prices.

Where are bilateral relations heading? Iranian leaders are positing that the anti-Mubarak uprising was inspired by the Iranian Revolution. Anyhow, the Muslim Brotherhood is an essential part of the dialogue between the opposition and the ruling junta. Moreover, two probable presidential candidates, Arab League Secretary-General Amr Musa and ex-IAEA chief Mohammad ElBarade are both known for their warm ties to Iran. As far as Jerusalem is concerned, this is almost beside the point since even the liberal opposition figure Ayman Nour has called for reassessing the Egypt-Israel peace treaty.

Iran certainly expects relations with Egypt to become "more balanced" and, most likely, for a resumption of full diplomatic relations. But a genuine strategic alliance between the two countries would be unprecedented. After all, Iran, Egypt and Turkey have traditionally been geostrategic rivals. A thin veneer of pan-Islamic solidarity may not be able to overcome the deep-seated patterns of history.
The biggest wildcard is whether the contagion of popular uprisings sweeping the region, notwithstanding the mullahs' utter ruthlessness in putting down dissent, may yet lead to the toppling of Iran's benighted regime and a truly new Middle East.

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--Feb 24, 2011

Tuesday, February 15, 2011

My Recent Radio Appearance

Listen to David Parsons of the Christian Embassy in Jerusalem and I discuss the implications of events in Egypt on Christian radio, "FrontPage Jerusalem," broadcast throughout the US and online at:

http://www.frontpagejerusalem.com/site/index.php

February 14 (web broadcast date)

(Our discussion is five minutes into the program...)

The show is co-hosted in the US by one of Israel's most selfless friends, Earl Cox.

Monday, February 14, 2011

Thankless Task at Turtle Bay

After more than six-months of squabbling, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu (Likud) and Foreign Minister Avigdor Lieberman (Israel Beitenu) have, at last, agreed to dispatch veteran diplomat Ron Prosor as Israel's ambassador to the United Nations. Meron Reuben had been saddled with the unenviable task of holding down the fort while the politicians bickered.

But what, realistically, can any Israeli ambassador hope to achieve at the UN where over 118 members identify with the farcically labeled "non-aligned" bloc, an interlocking directorate that includes 57 Organization of the Islamic Conference countries, 22 members of the Arab League, and Bolivia, Cuba, Nicaragua, Venezuela and North Korea, states that do not have diplomatic relations with Israel. As if this wasn't bad enough, the European Union nowadays rarely takes any initiative to defend Israel's right to self-defense. And even Washington has been known to express its diplomatic pique by occasionally throwing Jerusalem to the jackals.

From the beginning, Israel's first UN ambassador Abba Eban (1949-1959) essentially disregarded his immediate diplomatic audience to address his "language and emotion to the wider world beyond." Eban served concurrently as ambassador to Washington and to the UN. His successor Michael Comay (1960-1967) became one of Israel's leading representatives to American Jewry. In the lead up to the Six Day War, Gideon Rafael (1967-1968) transmitted diplomatic messages from US decision makers interpreted by the Israeli cabinet as providing a green light for a preemptive attack by the IDF against massed Arab forces.

Not much, however, could be done inside the UN. To PLO chief Yasir Arafat's gun-toting inaugural General Assembly speech in November 1974, Yosef Tekoa (1968-1975) could best direct his rebuttal to Israel's friends outside the auditorium. Similarly, Chaim Herzog (1975-1978) took to the General Assembly podium and demonstrably tore apart resolution 3379 which odiously equated Zionism as “a form of racism." But, he too, was speaking to the civilized world beyond.

Renowned jurist Yehuda Blum (1978-1984) bluntly declared that the UN had become an arena that "fanned the flames of Arab-Israel conflict." And while helping to fight off attempts to deny Israel's credentials at the General Assembly, Benjamin Netanyahu (1984-1988) focused his polemical talents at the American popular press. As chargé d’Affaires, Johanan Bein (1988-1990) could do nothing to stop the General Assembly from relocating to Geneva to again provide Arafat with a platform. "As I prepare to leave the post," he would later write in The New York Times, "I…ask myself … if my country's predicament at the U.N. is permanent."

Yoram Aridor (1990-1992) was fortunate to see the "Zionism is racism resolution" rescinded under US pressure, yet could then do nothing about, what the Times called "the harshest criticism of Israeli policies ever made at the Security Council" by the George H.W. Bush administration over Israel's deportation of 12 Palestinian terrorists to Lebanon during the first intifada. Gad Yaacobi (1992-1996) represented Israel during the Oslo-era but, he too, could not dissuade the US from joining the Security Council majority in a sweeping condemnation of Israel in the wake of Baruch Goldstein's massacre of Arab worshippers in Hebron.

The first US-born Israeli to be appointed ambassador to the UN, Dore Gold (1997-1999) was effective at public diplomacy, but could not sway the General Assembly against voting 131 to 3 to condemn Israel for housing construction in Jerusalem. During the barbaric Palestinian violence of the second intifada, Yehuda Lancry (1999-2002) endured shameless UN condemnations against "the excessive use of force" by Israel.

Dan Gillerman (2002-2008) was, arguably, the most thriving recent ambassador: Promulgating the first Israeli resolutions ever adopted by the United Nations; elected vice-president of the assembly one year, and impelling secretary-general Kofi Annan to speak out against the GA's ad nauseam attacks against Israel as counterproductive.

Finally, though she established rapport with a not unsympathetic UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon, Gabriela Shalev (2008-2010) was powerless as Judge Richard Goldstein led a lawfare campaign against Israel's right to defend its civilian population along the Gaza border.

Plainly, the labors of Israeli ambassadors take on a Sisyphean almost fatalistic character. So, why bother? Simply because the UN is where the family of nations, such as it is, comes together to make consequential collective decision.
In any event, Prosor's main role will be to represent Israel beyond the UN's corridors; most prominently to the global media and the U.S. Jewish community, a task he will partly share with Michael Oren, Jerusalem's ambassador in Washington (whose primary mission is focused on the US-Israel relationship).

Yet their public diplomacy roles have been made near-impossible because official Israel does not speak with one voice. Should Israeli ambassadors take Netanyahu's Bar-Ilan speech as their marching orders? Or the contradictory line articulated by Lieberman at his 2010 UN address? To further complicate matters, today's Internet offers a competing cacophony of dissenting voices all claiming to know what's best for Israel.

Prosor's advantage is that he is a compelling figure with superior communications skills and diplomatic heft to credibly present Israel's positions in both public and confidential settings. The rest depends on the two men who belatedly sent him. Not only must Prosor have unfettered access to the foreign minister and premier, he must be encouraged to provide them with unvarnished assessments of how their – sometimes incongruent – policies are affecting Israel's image in the media and support among American Jews.
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Monday, February 07, 2011

What is Qatar's Game?

On the Middle East map, the peninsula state bordering Saudi Arabia, jutting into the Persian Gulf opposite Iran, is easy to overlook. Yet Qatar is one of the world's wealthiest countries, the dominant exporter of liquefied natural gas, and through its sponsorship of Al Jazeera, punches considerably above its weight.

On the face of it Qatar is not easy to pigeonhole. In 2022, it will host the World Cup football (soccer) games; it's already home to perhaps the first world class museum of modern art in the Arab world; and its national airline (besides inspiring some of the most creative commercials on television) has 180 planes on order including five superjumbo A380s.

Its attitude toward Jews in comparatively enlightened. In 1996, Qatar hosted the Conference of Presidents of Major American Jewish Organizations and invited Israel to open a trade mission. In 2008, the sheikhdom allowed Israeli tennis star Shahar Pe'er to play in a WTA Tour tournament, and Israeli foreign minister Tzipi Livni to address its Doha “Democracy Forum." This barely raised eyebrows as Shimon Peres had made his second visit to Doha in 2007. Qatar is also considered an American ally and hosts (rent free) the US military's Central Command which oversees operations in Iraq and Afghanistan.

All this development and cosmopolitanism – in a country where native Qataris, practicing "liberal" Wahhabi Islam and comprise 200,000 out of a total 1.4 million population – is attributable to Sheikh Hamad bin Khalifa al-Thani and family. First lady Sheikha Mosah Bint Nasser al-Missned spearheads reform and is one of the most influential women in the world. Prime Minister (and businessman) Hamed bin Jaber al-Thani's recent corporate flirtation with Israeli entrepreneurs has been interpreted in some quarters as a political overture to the Jewish state.

There is, alas, also a darker side to the equation. During Israel's 2008-2009 military campaign to stop Hamas from firing rockets into its territory from Gaza, Qatar broke relations with Israel and moreover hosted extremist Arabs, plus Iran, to mobilize support for Hamas. (The Qataris subsequently offered to resume relations in return for being allowed to funnel reconstruction money directly to the Hamas authorities.) In addition to helping bankroll Hamas, the al-Thani's have played a key role in facilitating Hezbollah's suzerainty over Lebanon. And in December 2007, Qatar invited Mahmud Ahmadinejad to address the Gulf Cooperation Council in Doha, the first Iranian leader ever to do so.

Al Jazeera, based in Doha and created by Sheikh Hamad in 1996, is a tool of Qatar's foreign policy. In an Arab world where, until recently, dissent was forbidden, the channel's readiness to criticize Arab autocrats (excluding, naturally, the ruler of Qatar) has been exhilarating. Al Jazeera has also played a critical role in setting or codifying the pan-Arab agenda. But by notoriously, over and over again, disseminating the fulminations of al-Qaida's Osama bin Laden, the station concurrently promoted violent pan-Islam. Unlike the BBC's World Service shortwave broadcasts or even of Radio Free Europe of yesteryear, Qatar's soft power exercised through Al Jazeera has too often been in the service of tyranny.

While Al-Jazeera's English-language website and television mirror the BBC's professionalism (and frostiness toward the Zionist enterprise), the Arabic service often serves as a demagogic platform for spreading the radical views of the Moslem Brotherhood. Al Jazeera has provided a bully pulpit for extremist preacher Yussuf al-Qaradawi, promoted the Hamas-Iran-Syria-Hizbullah agenda, and glorified as shahids those killed "resisting" Israel. (To be fair, Al Jazeera allows the occasional Israeli spokesperson to appear in this sea of enmity.) Al-Jazeera's championing of Hamas over Fatah led it to broadcast The Palestine Papers, purporting to expose Mahmoud Abbas's peace negotiators as Zionist collaborators. When Qatar's rulers don't know what to make of a crisis, the network can vacillate. For instance, at their outset, Al Jazeera downplayed the disturbances in Egypt, only to become the nexus of anti-Mubarak agitation.

To a Western observer, Qatar's foreign policy can seem incoherent, even duplicitous. On the one hand the ruling family professes to promote reform and democratization, yet it is also a friend of medievalism and rejectionism. It is as if Qatar wants to be an unscrupulous Switzerland of the Middle East. In return for not being targeted, Qatar has come to an arrangement with terrorist groups and has for years provided safe haven to Muslim Brothers. Since 2003, Qatar has reportedly been paying al-Qaeda to spare it from terrorist attack; members of the royal family are said to have provided safe haven for 9/11 terrorists.

The al-Thani clan's continual playing off the forces of enlightenment and darkness against each other might be, somehow, excusable were its ultimate goal bringing the values of modernity to the Arab world. Regrettably, there is slim evidence they have any purpose beyond self-preservation and the consequences be damned.

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Feb. 7, 2011

Thursday, February 03, 2011

What Gives גלי צה"ל‎ Galei Tzahal? Why the Friedman Infatuation?

Am I the only one in Israel who wonders who at Israel's Army Radio is so infatuated with Tom Friedman of the NYTimes that they keep referencing his op-eds as if... they were something significant that we should all care about.

It seems that Old Tom has compared PM Netanyahu to Hosni Mubarak calling Netanyahu the "Mubarak of the peace process."

Standard Tom. Yawn.

Old Tom has been wrong about Israel more times than I'd care to count in this quickie posting.

He started being wrong from his college days when he was active with Breira. Sadly, from Beirut to Jerusalem (which, I'll admit is a good book with lots of bad ideas) has influenced thousands of young people to mis-perceive the Arab-Israel conflict.

So what gives Galei Tzahal?

Who is the Friedman-groupie in your news department?

Tuesday, February 01, 2011

Egypt-Israel Peace Treaty -- A Mistake?

Observing Egypt's current upheaval, reporter Ariel Kahane writing in the Hebrew daily Mekor Rishon opines: "Regardless of whether Mubarak falls or survives, whether the Islamists or the liberals take power, whether the riots die out or continue to rage, the lesson for Israel is clear: Arab regimes cannot be trusted." Kahane concludes that it is futile to pursue a modus vivendi with the Arabs based on Israeli territorial withdrawals.

Is he right? Should the peace treaty between Israel and Egypt, signed in Washington by Menachem Begin and Anwar Sadat on March 26, 1979 -- sixteen months after Sadat's extraordinary visit to Jerusalem -- be construed as a mistake?

On the eve of its signing, only two members of Begin's Likud-led cabinet, Haim Landau (1916-1981), an underground comrade of the premier's, and Ariel Sharon opposed the treaty. In a subsequent Knesset vote, Speaker Yitzhak Shamir, another Likud stalwart, abstained. These hard-liners would have preferred "peace for peace" and worried – it turns out presciently – that trading land would set a precedent in regards to the strategic Jewish heartland of Judea and Samaria (the West Bank).

In any event, their objections seemed besides the point as Israel's border with Egypt was opened, direct air-links between Tel Aviv and Cairo established and Begin left to tour the pyramids. Still, in October 1979 dissident members of his Likud, Geʾula Cohen and Moshe Shamir broke away to establish the Techiya or Renaissance party.

These secular hawks, bolstered by the theoretician Shmuel Katz (1914-2008), who in 1978 had quit the cabinet largely over Begin's peace policies, championed the Land of Israel ideology of Gush Emunim, the mostly Orthodox-led West Bank settlement movement. Techiya won three seats in the July 1981 elections and in 1982 vociferously opposed turning over the northern Sinai settlement of Yamit to Egyptian sovereignty. The party briefly realigned with Likud, went on to win five seats in the 1984 elections, before being supplanted in 1992 by a like-minded secular party, Tzomet.

As the fate of Hosni Mubarak's regime hung in the balance, came the news that Herb Zweibon, age 84, Katz's leading American disciple who had led opposition to the Egypt-Israel treaty in the US had died. Now, the old arguments raised by the Katz-Zweibon-Techiya camp against trading land for peace seem to have gained added resonance.

In truth, Israeli officials had few illusions about the nature of peace with Egypt, especially after Sadat's assassination and Mubarak's ascendency. He in effect gave Israel an ultimatum: Make "peace" on Palestinian terms or live with an Egyptian cold peace. Though wary of Egypt's profligate military build-up (fueled partly by U.S. aid), war games that could only have been intended against Israel, Mubarak’s debilitating intrigues against Israel at the United Nations, his duplicitous campaigning against Israel’s nuclear capacity, and his unwillingness or inability to stop the arms smuggling into Hamas-ruled Gaza, Israeli policymakers nevertheless preferred the cold peace to capitulation on the Palestinian front.

No wonder. For the past 30 years Egypt had been neutralized as a confrontation state. While Israel defended itself against two violent Palestinian uprisings, two Lebanon wars, against Hamas's aggression from Gaza and Iran's drive for the atomic bomb, Jerusalem did not have to divert resources to the southern front. To be sure there were also diplomatic and economic positives to the relationship, one being that fact that forty percent of the natural gas used by Israel is imported from Egypt.

Israelis are more anxious than most about Mubarak's fate. Foreign Minister Avigdor Lieberman has reportedly instructed the country's emissaries to make the case that while democratic change in Egypt is desirable violent revolutionary mayhem undermines the security of the region. Maintaining the peace – with all its flaws – between Israel and Egypt is Jerusalem's paramount goal. As President Shimon Peres forthrightly put it, having a fanatic Islamist regime in Egypt would not be better than the current lack of democracy.

In his previous incarnation, Peres had proclaimed a new Middle East modeled after Scandinavia. And Israeli doves, including late-in-life converts such as Ehud Olmert, not to mention an assortment of Palestinian leaders and European diplomats have preached that "peace brings security." Clearly, events in Egypt show this is not the case.

Providentially, Begin's treaty with Egypt was emphatically anchored in the strategic depth and demilitarization of the Sinai Peninsula, not in Egypt's hoped for durable good intentions. It was designed for the possibility "a new king would arise in Egypt who knew not Begin."

No matter who will rule Egypt – Mubarak until new elections, Omar Suleiman, Mohamed ElBarade or, perish the thought, the benighted Muslim Brotherhood, the treaty with Egypt was designed precisely for worst case scenarios.

So the lesson is not that Israeli leaders should abandon the possibility of reaching an accommodation with the Palestinians or Syrians. Instead, it is that the cornerstones of any deal needs to take into account the possibility that their successors might reject peace with Israel.

For now, Mahmoud Abbas's intransigence along with the fractious nature of Palestinian politics and Syria's Bashar Assad's fidelity to the Iranian-led axis mean that Israel has no genuine peace partner. Yet the Egypt-Israel treaty, providing demilitarization, strategic depth, and early warning plus verification procedures remains the template for future accords.

That Arab commitments to peace could be rickety was hardly lost on Begin. It has, however, been blatantly, serially, and irresponsibly disregarded by critics of Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu's Bar-Ilan peace proposal which emphasized precisely the security parameters essential for peace. As a result, too little serious thinking has been devoted to the complex security arrangements Israel will need in the West Bank and on the Golan should genuine Arab peace partners emerge Sadat-like.
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--Feb 1

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