'I'd Die to Forget You'

'The simple, poor Egyptian is learning that suffering Palestinian makes nearly three times what he does.'

CAIRO - In one of the television programs on Egypt's second channel, the host encouraged viewers to contribute money and food for the Palestinians suffering under the Israeli siege. One viewer called to say he had previously donated soft cheese worth thousands of Egyptian pounds, but the shipment was held up for many days at the Rafah crossing and the cheese rotted. "Who can I turn to now to donate dry food for the Palestinians?" he asked. Soon afterwards, another viewer called and suggested the generous donor deliver his cheese and other food products to one of the streets of Cairo. "The citizens of Egypt will know what to do with them," he promised.

"The simple, poor Egyptian is suddenly learning that the income of the suffering Palestinian is nearly three times higher than his, and he begins to wonder why he should reach into his pocket to finance someone who earns more," an Egyptian journalist and researcher says, explaining the current mood in Cairo. But this is an unstable mood and, for this reason, it represents a latent threat. At any moment, it could be replaced by a surge of support for Hamas and criticism of the Egyptian government for not contributing money to the Palestinians. "Hamas is liable to thus become a martyr," says Abdel Monem Said, the head of the Al-Ahram Institute for Political & Strategic Studies.

Egypt, and not only Egypt, will then face a problem. This is why it is anxious to create some sort of model of cooperation between Israel and the Palestinian Authority, and this is why Egypt and Saudi Arabia have already begun to exert heavy pressure on Hamas to at least adopt the Arab League declaration from the Beirut summit in 2002. This declaration includes a promise of normalization with Israel conditional upon a withdrawal to the 1967 borders. That is, it entails recognition of pre-1967 Israel. Egyptian intelligence, headed by Omar Suleiman, who is responsible for the Palestinian-Israeli portfolio, is conducting talks with the Muslim Brotherhood in Egypt so that "they will help" Hamas find the proper formula, according to sources in Egypt.

Ostensibly, Israel is entitled to stand on the sidelines and wait for the Egyptian action. After all, Hamas is just as much an Arab problem as it is an Israeli or Palestinian problem. The boycott of Hamas is liable to remove it from the Arab sphere of influence and send it into the Islamic sphere led by Iran. The Egyptians believe the continued stubbornness of Hamas would block any chance of negotiations with Israel, which would then unilaterally define the borders of Palestine. And, most importantly, Egypt's past efforts to foster peace would return to square one.

However, it is foolish at best to think Israel can now slip into a zombie-like snooze because the president of Egypt is waving a palm branch to shoo the Hamas flies from its face. Israel now has no other alternative but to rule Palestine. It has no solutions for terror. Without funds, no one will assume responsibility for public services. And without salaries, a Palestinian civil war will erupt very soon that will immediately seep into Israel. Without a dialogue with Hamas, Israel needs a responsible Arab adult, like Hosni Mubarak, who holds some valuable bargaining chips, the most important of which is to grant or deny Arab legitimacy to Hamas.

So, here again a situation arises that Israel detests, in which Arab and Israeli interests intersect. Mubarak will try to explain in a meeting with Ehud Olmert how important this moment is. Olmert will need to do more than nod his head because he will be sitting across from the person who patched together the cease-fire with Hamas that is still holding up. Both of them have a great interest in preventing the Palestinians from moving into "foreign hands." The famous Egyptian singer, Abdel Halim Hafez, sings a song in which he tells his beloved, who has left him, "I'd die to forget you." But he cannot, of course.

Egypt and Israel, who thought they could elude the Palestinian burden, find themselves in a rare duet outside the Palestinians' window.