Washington – After services at my synagogue the other day, a fellow-congregant approached me to discs the current turmoil in Egypt.
“It just shows that democracy is not part of the Arab culture and it won’t be for decades, if ever,” she said. “That’s why we can’t make peace with the Palestinians. We will never be able to trust them.”
For people looking for excuses not to make peace with the Palestinians, the upheaval in Egypt is just one more reason on a long list. We can’t make peace as long as there’s civil war in Syria, the doubters tell us; as long as Hezbollah rockets threaten from Lebanon and Hamas missiles from Gaza; or as long as Iran continues with its nuclear weapons program – and the list goes on. Perhaps we should wait for the Washington Redskins to return to the Superbowl or for the Messiah to come.
In fact, the situation in Egypt proves the absolute opposite. Just imagine the situation had Israel not signed a peace treaty with Egypt 34 years ago. True, it has been a cold peace and not allowed for a blossoming of people-topeople relations as we all wished. But that peace agreement has taken the danger of a military confrontation between these two nations, who fought four wars between 1948 and 1973, off the table. It’s not something we have to worry about.
The deposed President Mohamed Morsi was no friend to Israel and perhaps harbors outright anti-Semitic opinions – but he kept the peace treaty. And Israeli analyst Ehud Ya’ari, a veteran and highlyrespected observer of the Arab world, said recently that military and intelligence cooperation between Israel and Egypt during the year of Morsi’s presidency, was “perhaps the best it has ever been.”
To those who argue that Israel should not make peace with Arab nations because they are less democratic than we are, I would maintain that precisely the reverse is true. Only through peace treaties, endorsed and enshrined by the international community, can Israel hope to achieve security and predictability in its relations with its neighbors.
Some of the same doubters who bring up Egypt also argue that Secretary of State John Kerry is wasting his time in pursuing an Israeli-Palestinians peace deal. They are also dead wrong for many reasons.
As Kerry realizes, solving this conflict is a prime U.S. national security interest because it is used by our enemies worldwide as a recruiting tool for terrorists and to stoke anti-American feeling and because it undermines our efforts to champion political rights and the cause of democracy and selfdetermination around the world.
Unlike Egypt and Syria, this is the one issue where the U.S. has the leverage and ability to actually play a constructive role. The civil war in Syria and unrest in Egypt are both very important – but it is not clear what the U.S. can or should do and how much influence it can exert. However, on Israel-Palestine, the U.S. remains the indispensible broker with enormous influence on both parties and a clear policy – namely the two-state solution.
Securing Israeli-Palestinian peace would inject some stability into an unstable region. It would strengthen moderates, bolster the vulnerable government of Jordan, a key U.S. strategic ally, weaken Iran and its allies and proxies and pave the way for relations between Israel and the important Gulf States. It would springboard the Palestinian economy and act as a driver for economic activity throughout the Middle East, eventually boosting Egypt too.
Without viable peace talks, the status quo could quickly fall apart; instability will grow between Israel and the Palestinians, heightening the threat of violence in the West Bank and a new crisis between Israel and Hamas in Gaza.
Finally, although it is a tough task, it is not impossible and there are some reasons for cautious optimism. Both Israelis and Palestinians continue to support two states as recent polls have again demonstrated. Kerry’s indirect negotiations have been substantive and have narrowed gaps between the parties forming a better framework for talks than in some past efforts. And neither side wants to be blamed for failure.
It’s easy to find excuses not to make peace but that attitude achieves nothing. Working for peace is harder, no doubt, but the rewards are so great that it would be criminal not to try.
Alan Elsner, a former Reuters correspondent in Jerusalem and Washington, is Vice President for Communications at J Street, a pro-Israel advocacy group that worksforatwo-state solution.
The inclusion of this message from JStreet in The Jewish Times has been made possible through a grant from Alan Kligerman.