Mixed messages from Israel as Islamist wins Egypt presidency
Netanyahu says he respects result and urges cooperation; senior official says Israel's prediction that Arab Spring would become 'Islamic Winter' was correct; Morsi promises to respect Egypt's international accords.
Israel voiced respect on Sunday for the Muslim Brotherhood's victory in Egypt's presidential election, calling on the new administration in Cairo to maintain the countries' landmark peace accord.
"Israel appreciates the democratic process in Egypt and respects its outcome," Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu's office said in a statement after the Brotherhood's candidate, Mohammed Morsi, was declared successor to the U.S.-aligned Hosni Mubarak, who was toppled last year.
"Israel expects continued cooperation with the Egyptian administration on the basis of the peace accord between the two countries, which is in the interest of the two peoples and contributes to regional stability," the statement said.
In his victory speech, Morsi said he carries "a message of peace" to the world and pledged to preserve Egypt's international accords, a reference to the peace deal with Israel.
Israel's appeal to mutual expediency has been its refrain since Mubarak's ouster, which made way for the rise of Islamist movements repressed under his three-decade rule and hostile to the Jewish state, with which Egypt made peace in 1979.
An Israeli official, speaking on condition of anonymity, said the Netanyahu government hoped Morsi and the Muslim Brotherhood's parliamentary bloc would put the need to tend to Egypt's ailing economy ahead of any revision of bilateral ties.
U.S. aid to Cairo hinges on keeping the peace with Israel.
"Looks like we were right when we said the Arab Spring would become an 'Islamic Winter,' even though Western nations laughed us off at the time," the Israeli official said. But he added that he hoped the Egyptian government would "try to be more statesmanly, by working in the interests of the country."
Eli Shaked, a former Israeli ambassador to Cairo, told Israel's Army Radio that Morsi's authority would likely be diluted by the powerful Egyptian army, which relies on Washington's defense grants.
Israel Hasson, a lawmaker with the centrist Kadima party who has served as a Netanyahu government envoy to Cairo, said the possibility of already chilly bilateral relations going into a deeper freeze meant Israel had to revive its peace partnership with the Palestinians after months of diplomatic stalemate.
Morsy's win was hailed by Hamas, the Islamist group governing Gaza, which is locked in a power struggle with the West Bank-based, U.S.-backed Palestinian Authority of President Mahmoud Abbas.
"The immediate conclusion to be drawn from this [election] is that the State of Israel and the Palestinian Authority have a common interest in quickly, quickly building a regional coalition," Hasson said.
Meanwhile, one Palestinian was killed on Sunday by celebratory gunfire in the Gaza Strip, as Hamas welcomed Morsi's win, hoping it would advance the Palestinian cause.
The United States congratulated Morsi for his "milestone" victory and urged the Muslim Brotherhood leader to form his government carefully and respect the rights of all Egyptians as he takes power.
"We congratulate the Egyptian people for this milestone in their transition to democracy," White House spokesman Jay Carney said in a statement, calling on the new leader to ensure that Egypt remains "a pillar of regional peace, security and stability."
"We believe that it is important for President-elect Morsi to take steps at this historic time to advance national unity by reaching out to all parties and constituencies in consultations about the formation of a new government," Carney said.
He stressed the need to respect the rights of all Egyptians, including women and religious minorities like Coptic Christians.