In the last few days the Israeli government has made two moves in response to developments in Egypt. First the Foreign Ministry instructed Israeli ambassadors to persuade Western governments to tone down criticism of Hosni Mubarak. Then Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu asked friendly Western states to demand that whatever regime comes into power in Egypt keep the peace agreement with Israel.
Of course there is room for concern. But these moves involve a double error. They portray Israel as an extension and protege of the West - as Israel's enemies in the Arab world wish to present it. They also reflect helplessness, as though peace is not a strategic Egyptian interest but a kind of favor that Egypt did for the West. Despite the existing uncertainty, the prime minister of Israel must address the Egyptian people in a directly, saying something to this effect:
"I turn to you, the Egyptian people, as the prime minister of Israel, who was democratically elected. For the past 32 years peace has prevailed between our two states, following the historic visit of your late president Anwar Sadat in Jerusalem and his speech in the Knesset. After years of wars the border between us is now peaceful. The leaders of Egypt and Israel chose the course of peace and made difficult concessions to ensure both nations a possibility of properity, economic development and a dignified existence. This peace of the brave is a strategic and ideological interest of both nations and we are committed to honor it, preserve it and develop it.
"The Israeli people, some 20 percent of which are Arab, want the Egyptian people's good and will respect any decision regarding Egypt's internal regime. That is your decision and we have no intention of interfering with your sovereign right to shape it. We hope that as peace was preserved in the past 30 years, the historic achievements it entails will be preserved in the future as well.
"Regrettably we haven't reached an agreement with our Palestinian neighbors yet. As I said in my speech at Bar-Ilan University, Israel in my leadership is committed to the solution of two states for two peoples. I have called on the chairman of the Palestinian Authority to open negotiations over all the controversial issues immediately and without preconditions. To our regret, even the president of the United States failed to bring the two sides to the negotiation table.
"At this time it is more important than ever to solve the conflict and I repeat my call to the Palestinian Authority and its leaders to open immediate negotiations on all the issues. Opening such talks and reaching an agreement - which in my opinion and the opinion of the Palestinian Authority chairman can be achieved in a relatively short period - will contribute to the region's stability and to the peace of all the nations and states. We have difficult points of disagreement, but we are ready to deal with them sincerely and preserving both nations' legitimate rights and interests. We hope the Egyptian people and government support these efforts and encourage the Palestinian Authority to open negotiations.
"I would like to promise you that Israel is interested in good neighborly relations, based on mutual recognition and mutual respect of all the states and sees in peace with Egypt - the largest, leading Arab state - a cornerstone for the entire region's prosperity and development."
Will this call allay the understandable fears worrying the Israelis? It is not certain. But it would convey an important message, which would be comprehended by the world and certainly by Egypt. It would convey that peace is not between Israel and Mubarak, but between our two states. We must talk to the Egyptian people. That is the only way a sovereign state, which protects its interests and international status, conducts itself.
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