The National Interest

Egypt and Middle East Peace

The dramatic events in Egypt this winter will transform the entire Middle East in ways that are impossible to predict fully now. As the historic leader of the Arab world, change in Egypt has long presaged change elsewhere. Many will argue that in this uncertainty the Israeli-Palestinian peace process should be put on hold while we see how the dust settles. That would be a major mistake. The tsunami in Egypt adds to the urgent necessity of making peace between Israel and the Palestinians sooner rather than later.

The Jasmine Revolution that began in Tunisia at the start of the year spread to Egypt faster than anyone could imagine. Tunisia showed the anger of the Arab street could topple a dictator, something unprecedented in Arab politics. Now Egypt has demonstrated that the revolution is contagious. Libya’s Qaddafi, Yemen’s Saleh, Jordan’s King Abdullah and others face challenges unlike anything they have seen before. When Gamal Abdel Nasser over threw King Farouk in 1952 it ushered in two decades of military coups in the Arab world as other Arab generals followed his lead. Depending in part on how things play out in Cairo in the next few weeks, we could see a similar cascade of change.

So in this uncertainty should Israel and America take the safe road and hunker down putting the peace process on the back burner? Absolutely not. Of course we need to see how events in Egypt play out in the immediate future, but we should not wait long. Israel and America need to get ahead of history, not fall behind it. If the changes in Tunis and Cairo mean more representative and democratic governments are emerging in the Arab world, they will push even harder for a just and fair peace than the autocrats they are replacing. If progress toward peace is not forthcoming these governments will listen to their people, who will press for pressure on both Washington and Jerusalem to make a deal. In other words, if there is a spring time of freedom in the Arab world it will demand freedom for Palestinians and an end to occupation as well. If we want to help allies like King Abdullah, whose father King Hussein made peace with Israel, we need to listen to their urgent calls for doing more, not less, on the Palestinian issue.

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