Outlook: Why Israel fears a free Egypt

Feb 07, 2011

Aaron David Miller will be online Monday, Feb. 7 at noon ET to discuss his Outlook piece Why Israel fears a free Egypt.

I'm Aaron David Miller, and I'm ready for your questions.

Will the US miss out on a critical opportunity to influence Arab democratization and maturation if they do not or cannot reassess their position on Israeli - Arab policies during this period of change in Egypt?

It's tough for any side to make big decisions during a period of uncertainty. Once the situation in Egypt settles, the U.S. needs to assess what the chances are for moving forward in a serious Israeli-Palestinian situation. The gaps are big. The leaders are weak. It won't be easy.

Hi Aaron, I live in Israel, and nothing in your article resembles what I've seen, read or heard here in Israel. Yes, mainstream Israeli society is concerned about how things will turn out in Egypt, but there's no hysteria and little worrying. The mainstream media merely reflects those concerns: just registering the facts and waiting to see what happens. Likewise, if you read the leftist Haaretz, mostly you'll find support for the Egyptian protests. So perhaps you can be more specific about the hysteria and worrying to which you refer? Examples will be helpful. Thanks.

When the Israeli press hammers an American president for forcing Mubarak out of power, that's not what I would call calm thinking. The fact is, if Israelis aren't worried about developments in Egypt, they ought to be. The landscape on Israel is going to get a lot tougher as secular nationalists and Islamists play a bigger role in the Egyptian political system.

Thank you, Mr Miller, for this and all of your many previous efforts to clarity the real issues, conflicts and opportunities in the Middle East. You have a unique background, and well deserved credibility. I've watched Israel's "image" in the world worsen through five decades. Unfortunately, much of this is self-inflicted: the demonizing of virtually every Palestinian voice, the assassinations of grassroots leaders, the aggressive settlements policies, and for the past several years the heartless, immoral, virtual imprisonment of Gaza's population. I think many of us will look to Gaza to show what these current changes will bring. If Gazans can finally go abroad to study, obtain cement to rebuild, import groceries have unhindered access to the Internet, and export products: how could we not welcome that? Please keep up your good work. And work with Congress, please, to restrain their certain inclinations to screw things up. Bob Dickerman Swoope, Virginia

We should welcome it and do everything we can to make sure there is some normalcy in Gaza's political development and economic life. But very little of that is under our control. Hamas and Israel both ensure that.

Why do you think that Jordan is next after Egypt? To my knowledge, 30% of Jordanians, who are original jordanians, or Eastern jordanians, if you will, are loyal to the royal family, and will, by no means, never protest against king Abdullah II...

I"m not sure Jordan is "next" for regime change. But there's no doubt that divisions within Jordanian society and concerns over unemployment and corruption can start additional protests.

Mr. Miller, Your position that the US should fear democracy in Egypt because a free voice there will result in the demise of Israeli-Egyptian peace treaty thus giving rise to increased Muslim extremism seems shortsided to me. It presupposes that US support for Israel will always turn a blind eye to Israel's "...shortsided and harmful settlement policies". If the US were to not just denounce Israel's blatant practice of systematic denial of basic human rights and property ownership to their Palestinian citizenry but were to gate future financial and military aid on Israel's abandonment of state-sanctioned religious apartheid, wouldn't that eliminate the single largest cause of Muslim antipathy in the mideast? In other words, isn't the US policy of blind support for Israel despite their blatantly illegal and immoral practice of state-sanctioned Palestinian disenfranchisement [at least partly] responsible for Muslim extremism? Shouldn't US policies - not just words - actually promote liberty and justice for all and not just Christians and Jews?

You could hardly argue that the U.S. only promotes the interests of Christians and Jews. We're involved in nation-building in Afghanistan and Iraq. We interceded on behalf of Bosnian Muslims. So -- I think the question is far too pejorative. America doesn't fear democracy in Egypt. That wasn't the point of my article. But democracy in Egypt will make it harder for America to operate on a range of issues including containing Iran and counterterrorism.

After openly sabotaging renewed negotiations with the Palestinians, Israel's current government finds itself way behind the curve of fast moving regional events. They are doing themselves ill by offering nothing but continued obstinance, and public griping against the fall of authoritarianism. What can they do to embrace and engage what could be an opportunity?

I guess I won't put you down in the undecided column.

The Israeli fears about Egyptian democracy that you mention are clearly shared by some in Washington. How much of a role do you think these fears have played in the various corridors of power -- State, Defense, NSC and Oval Office -- in preventing a more eager U.S. embrace of El-Baradei? He is despised by many neocons and traditional conservatives for his opposition to Bush administration policies in Iraq and Iran. Are many in the Obama administration consciously or unconsciously trying to keep him on the sidelines?

Whatever allergy there may be to ElBaradei, any opposition to him on our part flows from the fact that he is not seen as legitimate on the streets. Even more important, we shouldn't be in the process of choosing candidates.

Why has the Israeli government entertained and continue to entertain a land for peace solution as a roadway to peace? Please offer one other case in history where this trade off has worked. Certainly not in the case of the USA.

You should ask them! Most every Israeli PM who has negotiated with the Arabs has adopted that approach to some degree or another.  And in Egypt and Jordan, the Israelis proved successful.

Hi Aaron, Liked your piece on Sunday, but why should we put Israel at the center of all our Middle East calculations? What is wrong with a democratic Egypt less friendly to Israel and the United States? You argue that this will make a Palestinian peace deal even less likely -- but a friendly Egypt has not done much to bring about a peace deal either. A freely elected Egyptian government may well turn out to be much more critical of the present status quo--but is that necessarily a bad thing? Israel, and the United States, will have to come to terms with new geopolitical realities in the Middle East. Michael Dobbs

That just goes to show you that the real focus of the efforts rely on the Israelis and the Palestinians, but Mubarak has been willing to support an Israeli-Palenstinian process and give it a chance to succeed. That's what Oslo was all about. I'm not sure the new Egypt will be as supportive.

Sorry for the abrupt end to the chat folks. We had some technicaly difficulties here in the newsroom.

In This Chat
Aaron David Miller
Aaron David Miller has advised several U.S. secretaries of state on the Middle East peace process and is the author of the forthcoming "Can America Have Another Great President?" He is a public policy scholar at the Woodrow Wilson International Center for Scholars.
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