By George S. Hishmeh – Washington, D.C.
Why is Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu (and many other Israelis) behaving like an ostrich? He is digging his head in the sand and wondering why the Egyptian uprising, triggered by the Jasmine Revolution in Tunisia, has engulfed the Middle East and posed a threat to Israel.
Netanyahu 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 National Authority.
All they had to do was to comply with international law and refrain from expanding colonies in the Occupied Territories. This has gone on for the last 43 years without much ado from western powers, especially the US.
The Israeli media has underlined the fact that the Israelis have been "terrified" since January 25, when the Egyptian uprising broke out, much to everyone’s surprise.
These fears are partly unfounded. The Israeli view, propagated in the West and the US, is that the Muslim Brotherhood will now be taking over Egypt’s reins, virtually closing the circle around Israel with Hamas in the Gaza Strip and Hezbollah in Lebanon.
This misjudgment could be attributed to the prevalent misunderstanding in Israel and in 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 some countries.
Had these governments allowed other political parties to function freely the choice of would-be activists would have been divided among varied leftist or rightist parties. (The Lebanese Communist Party, for example, has been in existence for many decades.)
Netanyahu, wrote Daniella Peled in the Haaretz, "resorted to hugely clumsy diplomacy," citing, for example, his instructions to Israeli ambassadors to lobby their 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 Qaida or the Taliban."
In turn, Uri Avnery, a prominent Israeli activist, acknowledged that there were economic factors in Egypt that led to the "turmoil" but, he added, "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".
Israeli President Shimon Peres also 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 that it is time for him to go because he has been ineffective and missed a golden opportunity to settle the conflict with his neighbours — the 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 recently that "in this environment, to believe, as some analysts have argued, that any Israeli government would negotiate a conflict-ending agreement with the Palestinians to pre-empt 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 thereby disrupting energy supplies to Israel and Jordan.
Israel receives 40 per cent of its natural gas from Egypt, at a cost unbelievably much less 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 complication has been the announcement that the PNA is planning national elections in July in the Occupied Territories.
How the results will affect the region and US policy in the Middle East remains to be seen. For one, this successor to the present Palestinian authority is unlikely to be as accommodating to Israel as Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas has been, if one accepts the contents of the so-called Palestinian Papers.
– George S. Hishmeh is a Washington-based columnist. Contact him at: Hishmehg@aol.com.