There is a partner in Cairo
Someone on the Israeli side has to start talking and not just think about 'appreciation' and 'respect.'
There was such grace in Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu's remark: "Israel appreciates the democratic process in Egypt and respects its results." But the pairing of the words "appreciate" and "respect" is usually used in dismissal letters or hollow eulogies.
What disaster would have occurred if Netanyahu had added something like this? "I congratulate Mohammed Morsi upon his election as Egypt's president and wish him and his people success. Israel will remain Egypt's partner and will be happy to lend assistance when needed." Less important presidents and the heads of more questionable regimes have received more generous language, but how does one welcome a threat or wish success to a representative of "Islamic terror"?
Okay, when it comes to etiquette, Israel's government and the person at its helm won't win any medals. Evidence of Israel's uncivil conduct was seen in the 2010 snubbing of the Turkish ambassador by Deputy Foreign Minister Danny Ayalon, who sat the ambassador down on a lower chair. Now it could be the turn of Egypt, which Israel is putting under a microscope to examine the conduct of this new "republic of evil."
There is an alternative, however. Israel and Egypt have many common interests. Some of them are strategic, such as strengthening defenses against Iranian influence in the region. Others are tactical, aimed at calming the border and driving terrorist organizations out of the Sinai Peninsula. In Egypt, both the supreme military council and the new president agree with Israel on the need to turn the Sinai into a thriving tourist center.
Tourism is one of Egypt's most important revenue sources. Morsi's election platform even mentioned his hope to increase tourist arrivals to 20 million a year (from 12.5 million before the revolution ). He also pledged to budget more than $3 billion for infrastructure in the tourism industry, which employs about 4 million Egyptians. Unlike his more fundamentalist Salafist rivals, Morsi doesn't care if male and female foreign tourists visit the country's beaches in Western-style bathing suits, as long as they leave their money in Egypt.
Attracting 20 million foreign tourists requires more than security arrangements at the pyramids. The Sinai has to be free of terrorism, because when tourists hear about an attack in Egypt, they don't run to a map to figure out where in Cairo or El-Arish the bomb went off. They simply cancel their plane tickets.
Morsi, whose name has become synonymous with the Muslim Brotherhood and Egypt's new regime, supports the restoration of the Palestinian people's rights, but he does so on the condition that this doesn't happen at Egypt's expense. Terrorism in the Sinai - even if it's to further the "holy cause" and is carried out directly or indirectly by Hamas (which grew out of the Muslim Brotherhood ) - is exacting a heavy price in Egypt.
Israel and Hamas are not in talks with Egypt on economic development or strategic cooperation. Israel and Hamas have an automatic understanding. Shooting prompts a response, until the Egyptians arrive to rein the sides in. That's how it was when Hosni Mubarak was president and that's how it was in the most recent clash.
But it's particularly important to try to reach more effective and long-lasting understandings when Egypt is to be led by a government and president from the Muslim Brotherhood. For there to be dialogue, Hamas doesn't have to recognize Israel as a Jewish state and Morsi doesn't have to make his wife a member of Hadassah. It would be enough for Morsi and Netanyahu to lift the blockade of the Gaza Strip and reopen border crossings under the supervision of Hamas, Egypt and the European Union.
And all the better to reach such a deal before the new Egypt decides to open the crossings to goods as well. That would end the brutal farce that doesn't augment Israel's security and destroys its reputation around the world. Israel would surely scream about Egypt not honoring its agreements, but let's remember that Egypt isn't a party to the agreement on the crossings and Israel can still reach a deal with Egypt.
These are just a few examples of the opportunities that the new Egyptian government is creating. But someone on the Israeli side has to start talking and not just think about "appreciation" and "respect."
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