The upheaval in Egypt is sowing anxiety in Israel. President Hosni Mubarak's government adhered strictly to the peace treaty, functioned as a stabilizing force in the region and supported expanding the circle of peace agreements to the Palestinians and neighboring states. The eight Israeli prime ministers who served over the course of Mubarak's 30-year reign could depend on him for strategic support, even when they waged wars on other fronts and deepened the occupation and the settlement enterprise.
The demonstrations in Egypt and the anticipated end of Mubarak's tenure raise fears in Jerusalem that his successor will be less friendly, if not downright hostile, to Israel. These fears are based on the positions of the new actors on Egypt's political stage: public opinion, which deplores Israel's treatment of the Palestinians, along with the Muslim Brotherhood and other opposition groups that opposed the peace treaty. Saturday's explosion near El-Arish, which suspended the supply of natural gas from Egypt to Israeli power plants, further heightened concern about the future of bilateral relations if the current regime in Cairo collapses.
Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, who fears the emergence of a "second Iran" across the border, has called on the United States and other Western countries to take action to dampen the shocks reverberating through Egypt and support a smooth transfer of power. He is urging the preservation of the peace with Egypt, which is an important element of Israel's security, and demanding guarantees from both Mubarak's successors and Western states that the 1979 treaty will be honored.
Netanyahu is right: Maintaining the peace is indeed vital to Israel and to regional stability. But he cannot stop at making demands on others; he must ask himself what Israel needs to do to preserve and even strengthen the peace.
The answer is obvious: Instead of barricading himself behind his fears and trading accusations with the Palestinian Authority over responsibility for the paralysis in the peace process, he must demonstrate that Israel is not indifferent to the regional mood and is genuinely willing to solve the conflict with the Palestinians and to grasp the outstretched hand of Syrian President Bashar Assad.
Instead of clinging to yesterday, Netanyahu must support the Arab League peace initiative, which he has so far ignored. That would be Israel's contribution to creating a new Middle East, one that is democratic and stable.
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